A Gary Jennings novel is always a breathless, exotic and occasionally shocking ride, and this is no exception. Third in a trilogy of early Mexico that began with Aztec and continued with Aztec Autumn, Aztec Blood is closer to a pure adventure novel than Jennings’ other works. Still, he manages to include plenty of insight into politics, religion and injustice, and he does so with his customary evenhandedness.
Cristo the Bastard is the son of a Spanish father and an Aztec mother in a time and place where mixed blood makes him legally less than human. But he uses a superior intellect, a little well-placed luck, and a remarkable ability to reinvent himself to stunning advantage. The beggar from the dusty streets of Veracruz becomes a bandito; the bandito later emerges as a Spanish gentleman. Cristo pursues wealth and position not for its own sake, but that he might be worthy of the beautiful Spanish lady whom he loves.
This story is more than mere adventure, however. Jennings paints an unapologetic picture of seventeenth-century Mexico: A rampantly corrupt government. Natives who are not always innocent victims. Priests devoted to caring for the poor, and priest-inquisitors devoted to the refinements of torture.
Diminishing the story somewhat are grammatical errors so numerous that it would seem Jennings’s first draft went straight to the typesetter without first crossing an editor’s desk. Such a liability might render the average novel unworthy of reading. But Aztec Blood, with its brilliant plot, flawless pacing and fascinating characters, is anything but average. It is a marvelous adventure brimming with love, mystery and danger – one whose ending leaves the reader feeling immensely satisfied, yet frustrated that there isn’t any more.