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A novel with some ‘credibility’

Review: ‘Aztec Odyssey’

My favorite lessons in the Arizona elementary school I attended taught about the culture and traditions of the Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo tribes. Later, during junior high school in Louisiana, (before “Google” became a verb), I absorbed every fact and myth about the Aztec and Inca empires and the Spanish Conquistadors. “Aztec Odyssey,” by Jay C. LaBarge, who grew up in the Adirondacks, brought back a lot of that excitement and reminded me why that part of our world history is so important.

This novel has everything: murder, mystery, government corruption, mob bosses, righteous revenge, Navaho and Nahuatl tribes, vision quests, blues music, a blossoming love story, and a big bear of a dog.

The physical and visual characteristics of this novel are striking. The brilliant orange jacket cover with a depiction of ancient Aztec architecture is the first draw, and the 400-page heft of the book feels just right. There are several simple maps throughout the novel that help keep the reader on track as the ancient characters and the present-day characters travel. I was a bit concerned about the plot structure jumping back and forth from 1521 to present day, but it works by creating a visual travelogue of the ancient Aztecs heading north from Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) to converge with the present-day characters traveling southwest from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The list of characters from the past and present-day is helpful, but a pronunciation guide for the ancient Aztec character and place names is missing.

The characters are believable and likable (or despicable) and historical information is effectively passed on through character dialogue. Nick LaBounty, an archaeologist and the main character in present day, is on a personal mission to discover who killed his father. Asupacaci, an Aztec warrior and son of Montezuma in 1521, leads a very important mission for his murdered father. These two orphaned men embark on connected missions, spurred by their fathers’ pursuits.

While Nick is determined to solve a family mystery and find his father’s killer, Asupacaci is charged with saving his people’s treasures and legacy. Both men, in their own way, respect culture and history and follow strong personal moral codes.

Other characters become entangled in the missions and play important roles in solving the mysteries. Esteban Gonzalez is a cartel mob boss who wants to restore the Aztec empire by taking over Mexico completely. Soba, a Navajo woman raised in the Nahuatl tribe is a linguist specializing in lost languages. Bidzi, Soba’s self-appointed protector, is the leader of a blues band and plays an important role in solving the mystery. Respected tribal elders are given a voice when they explain ancient customs and mentor the younger characters.

Throughout the novel, Nick uses his knowledge of archeology to track down clues and solve the mystery of his father’s murder. Soba, with her knowledge of languages and network of friends, is also invaluable in the hunt for answers and “buried treasure.”

I fact-checked some characters (like Asupacaci, son of Montezuma) and places (like The Cliff Palace) and found the information was correct. That accuracy gives the novel credibility. I highly recommend this book as an interesting read, and I look forward to the second book in this series by Jay C. LaBarge.

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