Historian Wright’s third novel (Henderson's Spear, 2002, etc.) finds a young Inca boy swept into Francisco Pizarro’s 16th-century conquest of Peru.
A single impulsive act gets young Waman tangled with history: after an argument, he leaves his domineering father and boards a ship, also deserting a blooming romance with his cousin Tika. Fate intervenes when his ship is raided by Spanish pirates led by Pizarro, returning to Europe following an unsuccessful attempt to find the Inca stronghold. Once he fights off smallpox and narrowly survives the trip, Waman is forced to become Pizarro’s translator. Pizarro takes his grand designs to the king and queen of Spain, who allow him to launch a conquest of Peru. At first the two sides seem unevenly matched, as the culturally evolved Incas ridicule the Spaniards for their primitive manners, Christian beliefs, and hunger for gold. Yet the Inca Empire is already coming undone when its leadership is usurped by Atawallpa, whose hubris will bring consequences; and the story traces the bloody path to Pizarro’s first decisive victory. Waman’s service as a Spanish soldier and prisoner calls his loyalties and identity into question as the story leads to his long-desired reunion with Tika.
Wright’s narrative deftly juggles the elements of historical fiction, war story, and coming-of-age novel.