Rather ponderous historical fantasy set in the Aztec empire before the advent of Columbus: from the author of People of the sky (1989). Young slave girl Mixcatl, abducted from her eastern jungle home when a toddler, evinces a rare talent for painting, so the scribes of the ruling Aztec city Tenochtitlan set her to copying ancient texts and glyphs, while also attempting to instill in her the elements of their religion--which involves vast, bloody sacrifices to the warrior-god Hummmingbird on the Left. But Mixcatl suspects herself to be different from other folk: she has preternaturally sharp senses, an ability to animate dead jaguar skins and claws, and a disturbing tendency to change her shape, as if something within her body was attempting to emerge. In the rival but independent city of Tezcotzinco, meanwhile, the gentle Speaker- King, Wise Coyote, desperately searches for a means to retain his independence in the face of the implacably expansionist Tenochtitlan. From the old scribe Nine-Lizard, Wise Coyote learns of the ancient Olmec magicians and their half-jaguar, half-human rulers, and wonder whether Mixcatl is not one such, and whether he can use her to destroy the revolting Hummingbird cult. If, for instance, he could persuade Mixcatl to transform herself into a jaguar in full view of the people, Hummingbird would be discredited. Reasonably rewarding as regards Aztec culture and environment, but thinly plotted and too long by half. Worth a try for historical-fantasy regulars.