Now that I’m freelancing, I finally have time to read books – and I’ve read a couple of them over the last few weeks. The ironic thing is, I don’t have time to write about them, since I’ve been busy with housework and freelancing projects.
So before I lose the plot, so to speak, let’s do a review on Gary Jennings’ Aztec Rage.
The Aztec series was popularized by American author Gary Jennings, who died in 1999 after completing two books. The rest were written by other authors with the ‘Gary Jennings’ title slapped on. This particular book, Aztec Rage, is by Robert Gleason (Jennings’ former editor) and Junius Podrug.
Once a gachupine (pure-blooded Spanish nobleman), Don Juan Zavala’s passions in life consisted of women, horses, fighting, the spending of money and the mistreatment of those in the lower class. His life is thrown upside down when his dying uncle announces that Zavala is not pure-blooded but an Aztec changeling, taken in as a replacement after the Zavala family perished on the voyage from Spain to Mexico. Accused of murdering his uncle, Zavala is thrown into prison, where he learns to eat humble pie from the very people he has trod upon all his life. Escaping with the help of a fellow prisoner, he winds up at a parish run by Father Miguel Hidalgo, who is secretly going against the church and Spanish government by teaching the local Aztecs how to cultivate wine and make pottery. In the Spanish new colony, ‘blood’ is everything: the gachupines control wealth and power over criollos (colonial Spaniards), and the criollos look down on peons (mestizos – half blooded Spaniards/Aztecs; as well as the Aztecs themselves). Initially, Zavala finds it difficult to rid himself of the prejudices against people he thinks of as the ‘lower’ class, but the people he encounters on his travels, along with his experiences, slowly changes his mind. While on the run, he winds up sailing all the way to Spain itself, where he fights in the Napoleonic Wars against France, before eventually returning to Mexico – only to find that a revolution is brewing, led by Father Hidalgo. Throwing his lot in with the rebels, Zavala now fights to free his homeland from the avaricious clutches of the local viceroy and the gachupines he once counted himself among.
The plot as explained above sounds promising, like a classic gentleman’s novel full of bravado and pomp. The truth is far from. The ‘hero’, Zavala, is portrayed as a man of swords and horses, and while not uneducated, dislikes ‘scholars’ and ‘politics’. He is a paradox on two legs – while loudly proclaiming himself to be a man of honor, he lies, cheats and manipulates his way to survive – although towards the end, he does show some shining examples of bravery and loyalty to friends.
One review site calls the novel ‘soft porn wrapped in swashbuckling garb’ – and they are right. Zavala seems to think with his dick rather than his brain. In one scene, a traitorous countess attempts to murder him – and in the ensuing struggle, they bang. I mean, one can be horny, but not that horny..and this is only one scene, discounting the numerous other women Zavala has bedded (at least five in the course of this novel; all encounters are explained in lurid detail). Zavala is constantly going on about how much of a man he is and why he loves women and horses. After the 10th time, it got old really fast and the character sounded like a small boy attempting to talk big in a school yard. ‘Look at me, I’m full of machismo!’
The plot is choppy. I found Zavala’s trip to Spain unnecessary, and as a reader it confused me because it seemed to have no bearing to the story, making it draggy and boring. The few good characters that the novel had all died tragic deaths. The authors seem to have an aversion for scholars lol.
I also found Gleason and Podrug’s attempt to infuse Spanish terms, which they had to explain over and over again, an unwelcome distraction. The good news is now I know what gachupine, criollo, mestizo, peon and puta means, since they’re repeated so often.