Aztec Century (Christopher Evans)
28 June 2023
Britain has fallen to the technological might of the Aztec Empire whose armies have rampaged across the globe. Now, for the first time in a millennium, the British are a subject race.
Inevitably there is resistance - and among those determined to fight the invaders is Princess Catherine, elder daughter of the British monarch. But she is torn between her patriotism and her growing involvement, political and personal, with the Aztecs - and with one Aztec in particular. Then her sister is arrested and exiled for her part in an alleged terrorist attack - and Catherine finds herself walking a perilous tightrope...
Sweeping from occupied Britain to the horrors of the Russian front and the savage splendour of the imperial capital in Mexico, Aztec Century is a magnificent novel of war, politics, intrigue and romance, set in a world that is both familiar - and terrifyingly alien.
Sean Aaron (4 July 2023 07:11)
My nuanced take is that given the amount of research that appears to have gone into this, the result is a bit “meh” - a lot of unsympathetic characters and schlock horror ending detracting from any possible message about empire (not that I saw much of that happening in the first place). I’m sure it would have made a fun story from the pages of Dan Dare, but in a more modern context, meh!
Sinclair Manson (1 July 2023 19:52)
I think the overall conclusion of our discussion of this novel was about right. There's a lot to admire in the bulk of it but the end feels a bit over the top. I don't quite agree with those who saw the ending as ruining the trajectory of the novel but the horror of it was the main thing I remembered from reading this novel as a teenager. On a second reading, it was the least interesting part of it.
The most interesting parts are the imagination of a modern Aztec civilization (obviously) and some nice characterisation. Catherine is flawed and ultimately self destructive but is written with subtelty and sympathy. She is blind to how self-serving and hypocritical her resistance to the Aztec empire is, and to why many might not see rule by her family as any better than her enemies. She is torn apart by unresolvable contradictions and in the end, it feels like all the horror is deliberately pitched by its perpetrators to her fears, rather than proving those fears to have been justified.
Then there is the enigmatic Bevan, the very opposite of Catherine and whose motives remain inscrutable to the end. Aztec agent or left wing rebel? Catherine's friend or her most poisonous enemy? And if he is working for the Aztecs, which Aztecs is he working for?
The Aztec civilization is interesting in many details but suffers a little from being presented from an elevated position, with a top heavy focus on its history, politics and military. We see very little of how ordinary people of the empire think, of the tensions and conflicts of its culture. I found it telling that the alternate versions of real artists were overall more conservative than their originals.
Graham MacDonald (29 June 2023 12:27)
Definitely something a bit different in the alternate history genre it makes a pleasant change from "Nazi's winning WW2" or "Confederates winning the American Civil War". The shocking and slightly unbelievable ending slightly detracts from the rest of the book which is incredibly well researched and convincing. The path to the alternate history is drip fed throughout the novel and makes sense, subtle changes leading to dramatic differences in our own time and a very nuanced criticism of Britain and the British Empire, and the blinkered views of inherited wealth and power, that is very much not rammed down the reader's throat.
Although the ending feels a little out of place the final brutal act of the Aztecs does echo the prejudices of the main character in a way that feels like an exasperated attempt to play to those prejudices rather than a criticism of the Aztecs themselves; who throughout the rest of the book are portrayed as relatively balanced and clear minded.