Answer “no” immediately if someone asks, “Would you like to know . . . about the men I have killed, the women I have loved, the fortunes I have made . . . and stolen?”
There’s a certain misguided bravado to opening a historical novel with the hoary equivalent of a movie voiceover, compounded by the fact that the voiceover is voiced by a wannabe Zorro—or maybe the Cisco Kid. Don Juan de Zavala, though a Spaniard in Mexico, finds that the other Spaniards in Mexico just plain don’t like him. Narrowly avoiding the priesthood by virtue of an unfortunate incident—“I horsewhipped a fellow seminarian who branded me a sodomite after I described my lurid deflowering of a servant girl”—the resonantly named Don Juan becomes a champion of sword-and-dagger action, leading a revolt against the oppressive gachupines on behalf of the noble indios and criollo rebels who have decided that Don Juan is a pretty good guy, even though he’s foppish and educated and all that, because he’s a tad on the dark side and was called El Azteca Chico, the Little Aztec, as a lad, and because he's good in a fight. You can guess what Don Juan learns about why he’s thus complected, but no matter; he’s already torn off across the sea to sign up for action in the Napoleonic Wars, but not before having a minor epiphany or two: “Immersion in the ancient indio culture was slowly transforming me.” Creaky plot points and sneering villains notwithstanding, though, this franchised novel (“Gary Jennings’ Aztec Rage”) is soft porn wrapped in swashbuckling garb, and Zavala is frequently seen unbuckling his swash and piercing the waiting maids and maidens of New and Old Spain with various body parts, all in prose guaranteed to thrill the 13-year-old boy who stumbles upon this book at a garage sale.
If the Aztecs are enraged, it’s because one of them read this improbable mess.