An Aztec slave must unravel the mystery surrounding an untimely and embarrassing death in 1517, or face the wrath of Montezuma.
Yaotl, narrator and slave to the Chief Priest Lord Tlilpotonqui (“He Who Is Feathered Black”), is assisting a common man named Handy with a human sacrifice to the Great Pyramid. Their sacrifice, known as a Bathed Slave, is far from the specimen of human perfection stipulated by the merchants. Before the ceremony can be completed, he breaks free, utters a threat—or perhaps a prophecy—and leaps to his death, catching everyone off guard. His carelessness earns Yaotl an audience with the imperious Emperor Montezuma, who demands that he learn the story behind the suicidal slave. Montezuma has been plagued by restless dreams of late and by the mysterious prison escape of several sorcerers. Sorcerers, the legend goes, can change themselves into various creatures under cover of darkness. Montezuma suspects a connection between incidents. Yaotl must journey far across the empire to discover the answers (Levack provides detailed maps). His episodic odyssey through diverse villages with exotic names provides as much historical arcana as clues to the mystery. Readers will eventually learn why he’s been reduced from priesthood to slavery.
Levack’s colorful winner of the CWA Debut Dagger Award will satisfy every appetite for information about this fascinating civilization, but may disappoint fans seeking a stronger mystery.