A cunning Aztec slave unravels a devilish murder mystery while eluding killers dispatched by his master.
In early-16th-century Mexico, a slave named Yaotl (“The Enemy”) and his brother Mamiztli (“The Mountain Lion”) are standing over the corpse of Shining Light just as Shining Light’s mother, Tiger Lily, comes upon the scene. She accuses Yaotl of the crime. Close on her heels is Lord Feathered in Black, Yaotl’s imperious master, and Montezuma’s brother, whom the unscrupulous Shining Light had cheated. The truth behind the killing is complex and so dangerous for Yaotl to reveal that he keeps silent except to protest his innocence. But the upshot is the wrath of Lord Feathered in Black, robbed of his revenge. Urged by Lion to flee his master, Yaotl, on receiving his son Nimble’s valued knife covered with blood, sets out to locate the young man. In response, Lord Feathered in Black sends thugs to kill him. Yaotl’s journey includes many dangerous encounters—a tangle with the army of the Otomies, a visit to the featherworkers parish and a land that honors Xolotl, a god of disease—rich in both historic sidelights and clues to his son’s mystery.
Levack’s second Yaotl novel (Demon of the Air, 2005) is generous in its historic detail (maps, a pronunciation guide, etc.), and full of adventure and anecdote. The modest mystery subplot lends an undercurrent of tension.