THE LUCK OF HUEMAC by Daniel Peters


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This long, stoutly researched, and high-minded march through a century of Aztec civilization (1428-1521) lacks the fevered color, sex, and glue of Gary Jennings' Aztec (1980); but it has all the cosy particulars of a family dynasty tale, some swell magic, and a glossary to help one over the eye-crossing nomenclature. The hero/seeker is Huemac, whose luck is to be ""feared and misunderstood,"" since the Wind God has gifted (or cursed) him with a spiritual power deadly to his enemies. His father is Quinatzin, a warrior/diplomat from the city of Texcoco who follows his fate to the island city of Tenochtitlan during the reign of Monteczuma I; his mother is Ome Xochitl, daughter of sorcerer/warchief/flower-song-composer Nezahualpilli, ruler of Texcoco. And, searching always to discover the course and nature of his fate, Huemac alternates his spiritual quests with triumphs in the ritual ball-game of tachli and warrior-duties for Tenochtitlan's suspicious rulers (Huemac is feared for his ability to literally scare foes to death). Huemac will absorb the secrets and wisdom of his elegant grandfather Nezahualpilli and the Old Ones of Huemac's ancestral hill people, the Chichimex. He will mate with a Chichimex woman. And later he'll capture his ""nahualli""--an animal spirit (here a hawk) which inhabits Huemac's body and enables him to flutter down for conferences here and there during the last Tenochtitlan days of Monteczuma II during the Spanish conquest. But Huemac is not the only fate-tossed soul here: his sister Cocatli and daughter Papalotl are priestesses (Papalotl will die in the Holy City of Cholulu with a vision of the god Quetzalcoatl); his giant son Xolotpilli will die a warrior's death. And Huemac himself, de-nahualli-ed, will finally expire with the cry, ""Tenochtitlan!"" Peters (author of the banal Border Crossings, 1978) attempts to make perfectly clear such matters as the competing rituals, service, and persona of the gods, the Mexican caste system, the tangle of tribal politics, education of the young, etc.--and to a large extent he succeeds. Yet somehow one misses the raw feel of an alien time and culture, and Peters' Mexicans tend to express themselves in the airless diction of loftily-intentioned Biblical novels. Generously informative for the Aztec-minded, then, but more vigorously hard-working than vividly engrossing.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Random House