Making capricious but expeditious use of expansive research into Aztec culture and rites, Jennings, a boisterous storyteller, has amassed hundreds of bawdy, grisly, occasionally funny, handsomely scenic details--and he offers them in a sleek, urbane, picaresque adventure. . . as a towering tribute to the Aztec civilization, destroyed by Cortez in the early 16th century. The narrator here is Dark Cloud, although he is known through his nearly six decades by many other names. Son of a quarry foreman, Dark Cloud is mysteriously propelled by two possibly divine personages, and in his ""sheaves of years"" he'll be a student, scribe, warrior, diplomat, merchant, and finally a prisoner of a fatuous Spanish bishop--who is busily battering the natives into Christian slaves and who will have him executed for heresy. Dark Cloud's occupations and explorations take him from the Athens-style schools of the Revered Speaker of Texcoco, to the dark jungles and arid wastes of both ferocious and peaceful peoples: his fate will be to ""see things near and plain. . . and remember,"" but he will also lose everyone dear to him. His sister Tzitzi, his first sex partner, is mutilated and caged in a menagerie by a prince (Dark Cloud will avenge her via a mad beauty who uses the skeletons of her lovers for armatures for their statues). Adored wife Zyanya is swept away in a flood, and young daughter Nochip will be slain and skinned in a pious fervor by well-meaning colonists under Dark Cloud's command. And it's Dark Cloud himself who'll be the one to slip the fatal shiv to MotecuzÃ²ma II--who betrayed his people by his policy of ""wait"" as Cortez marched forward (though another assassination attempt--poisoning Malinche, the traitorous native mistress of Cortez--fails). Finally, however, amid the bloody, brave last days of the Aztecs, Dark Cloud recognizes his love for his second wife Bu--but too late. . . . Jennings' scenery is fine; his sympathies and fictional world are firmly in hand; and, best of all, the humor is blackly cheerful (Siamese twins ""crawling on all eights""). So: a deservedly commercial table-bender (800+ pp.)--Roark-cum-Renault--that's steaming with gore, sex, heady adventure, and some righteous (and rightful) display of those feathered banners for a vanished culture.