It’s not often you see a novel about the Aztecs but that’s exactly what War God – Nights of the Witch is.
The book takes place in a tumultuous time in the land of the Aztecs (or Mexica as they called themselves) in what is now central Mexico. There is war between the Aztecs and the proud Tlascalans, Hernan Cortes launches an expedition from Cuba towards the unknown lands of the Mexican peninsula for gold, while the Aztec ruler Moctezuma undertakes vast, gory human sacrifices in a desperate attempt to appease the war god Huitzilopochtli, who appears in visions as a hummingbird. Cortes first encounters the Chontal Maya, descendants of the once-great Mayans, and must confront them before he can move on towards the Aztecs.
Graham Hancock gives us a brilliant picture of the world of the Aztecs who rule much of Mexico but whose cruelty have made their position precarious. Hancock adds to the historical drama by introducing mystical characters like a teenage witch who has the ability to fade into thin air and gods and saints which appear in dreams to people on both Spanish and Mexica sides. The Catholic Saint Peter even features in dreams, encouraging the conquest of the native tribes in order to spread “God’s Word” and even condoning a monk’s lust for children. Moctezuma even knows about the approaching Spaniards from his visions in which they are presented as the coming of Quetzalcoatl, another of the Aztecs’ powerful gods, who is said to have been driven away by Hummingbird and will return at a given time, which is that very year. This conflation will have deadly consequences for the Aztec nation, who we know from history will be brought down for ever by Cortes.
It is hard to feel sorrow for the Aztecs, whose might and sophistication were fueled by conquests of neighboring tribes and excessive cruelty with their systematic human sacrifices. The Spaniards are presented as a mix of swashbuckling and sympathetic figures and there is an especially vile Inquisitor whose zeal for converting pagan “savages” by any means necessary is also accompanied by a lust for young boys.
The book jacket describes the novel as a clash between the Spaniards and the Mexica, but this is misleading. The novel is the first of a trilogy about the Spanish conquest about the Aztecs, hence why Cortes does not actually clash with the Aztecs in it. The book’s sequel is War God- Return of the Plumed Serpent, which I will look out for.