The Jaguar and the Wolf

Written by Leah R. Cutter
Review by Ann Chamberlin

Having escaped arrow-shooting skraelings and “the damn monks from Eire,” a boatload of Iselanders (Vikings) blows ashore among the Itza (Maya), in a jungle so different from their own frozen north. Tyrthbrand, leader of the Vikings and one of the last believers in Tyr and the rest of the gods of Aesir, finds himself at the mercy of Lady Two Bird, former high priestess of Ix Chebel, who struggles with doubts and politics of her own. The Vikings, few as they are, do know the secret of the “blood stone” (iron) which Lady Two Bird sees in a vision could save her people and their gods from the prophesied White Hand Cortez.

While the two peoples negotiate, the two sets of gods try to work out their own fragile differences. I found this vivid portrayal of gods as characters the most delightful part of this historical fantasy: Itzanam, the old iguana god pivoting his reptilian eye on the world, Loki the trickster, Tyr brooding in his fire-stoked hall, Ix Chebel dancing like those mortals she favors, madmen and suicides. One set of gods earns its immortality by eating golden apples when they grow old. The others, of much more shimmering and varied aspect, allow their hearts to be torn out in sacrifice. What does a nature god do in terrain so different from his own? And what happens to his immortality when his last believer dies?