#Bookreview – The Serpent and the Eagle by Edward Rickford

Book reviews

What Amazon says

Something has come from beyond the Great Mists…

Tenochtitlan, 1519. Strange, pale-skinned people have arrived on the coast of the One World. They hail from a faraway land called Spain and fight for the mysterious Hernando Cortes. To confront Cortes’ forces would be dangerous, but inaction may be even more dangerous.

The Mexica are the most powerful people in all the One World and regard the uncouth interlopers with a mixture of curiosity and distrust. Keen to discover their intentions, the Mexica send an official envoy to the coast. What they learn is most troubling. The Spanish possess weapons that have no equal and may have designs on Tenochtitlan.

The conflict that follows will tear an entire region asunder and give birth to an empire of globe-spanning proportions. Combining the political intrigue of Wolf Hall with the gripping battles of The Last Kingdom, this award-winning historical novel meticulously reconstructs a long-lost world in order to faithfully recount an event still unique to this day: the epic collision of two civilizations separated for over ten thousand years.

Editorial Reviews

“The epic encounter of Aztecs and conquistadors has attracted—and tested—many a novelist. The challenge is one of staying believably true to the historical tale and its Mexican setting, while at the same time offering the reader some surprises. Rickford rises to that challenge with considerable aplomb, balancing evidence with imagination, research with flights of fiction. Fueled by a complex narrative tension and a deft deployment of detail, The Serpent and the Eagle is unpredictable in all the right ways.”
—Matthew Restall, Professor of Colonial Latin American history, Director of Latin American studies at Penn State, author of When Montezuma Met Cortés

“Edward Rickford knows his history. The Serpent and the Eagle is a masterpiece of historical fiction. It’s filled with surprises and heart-rending characters, but it’s Rickford’s attention to cultural details, both native Mexica and Spanish, that puts this book one step above its competition. Plan a long weekend of reading. You’re going to love this book.”
—Kathleen O’Neal Gear, New York Times bestselling author of People of the Canyons

“A captivating, well-plotted, bicultural dramatization of the months prior to Motecuhzoma’s meeting with Cortés, deftly transporting the reader 500 years back into the eyes and intimate relationships of key participants—Mesoamerican and European, emperor and counselor, conqueror and slave.”
—Andrew Rowen, author of Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold

“Difficult to put down. Well-written, fascinating, and full of wonderfully diverse points of view!”
—Zoe Saadia, author of the Pre-Aztec Trilogy and the Rise of the Aztec Series

“A wonderful premier novel.”
—N.D. Jones, USA Today bestselling author

“When two cultures collide, there are always multiple versions of history. A brave and expansive look into the bygone era of exploration by the Spaniards into Aztec lands. A thinking person’s novel. Fascinating!”
—Chanticleer Reviews

“The Serpent and the Eagle is another literary text that may offer the reader exits out of the colonial wound of indignity and entrances into the enunciative reclamation of silenced historical, social, and cultural spaces.”
—C.T. Mexica, Ph. D, Arizona State University

“The story weaves a rich tapestry of Spanish conquistadors and native Mexica—commonly known as the Aztecs—as well as the neighboring native tribes, that transports readers to the lush jungles and grand cities of pre-Hispanic Mexico. The writing is clear and easy to read, with just enough Spanish and Nahuatl to add deep flavors without slowing the pace.”
—Casey Robb, author of The Devil’s Grip

Grand Prize Winner in the 2018 Chaucer Book Awards.
Winner of Five-Star Review from Readers’ Favorite contest.
Discovered Diamond award.

My review

This book is my first reading encounter with the history of the arrival of the Spanish explorers/conquerors in Mexica and their encounters with the Aztec (called Mexica) people. I do not know the history of South America well, but this book came across as being exceptionally well researched and is based on real events and people, including the leader of the expedition, Cortes, the missionary and interpreter, Aguilar and the young native Mexica slave, Malintze, who becomes and interpreter for Cortes when he realises she speaks more than one of the Mexica languages.

In the early 16th century, the Aztec world, called the One World, which comprises of a large number of different native peoples, who inhabit the various cities and villages and who speak a spectrum of languages, are all united under one cruel and dominant leader, Motecuhzoma or the King. The OneWorld is described as operating as a federation with each area retaining its own language and culture and being ruled by their own leader but all falling under the central leadership of Motecuhzoma in his main city of Tenochtitlan. The Mexica are wealthy and have discovered the aesthetic pleasures of creating artworks from gold, jade and exotic feathers. The have a robust religion which requires them to make numerous human sacrifices to their many gods. They actively engage in slavery, particularly of young girls who are sold by their families if they cannot pay their tributes to the King. Motecuhzoma’s people collect tributes from all of the areas/provinces in his domain and under his dominance. Motecuhzoma is described as a typical feudal lord and he and his favoured courtiers live a life of comfort and luxury while their subjects like in poverty and fear.

The descriptions of the Mexica life makes it difficult for the reader to sympathise with Motecuhzoma and his courtiers, even though you know they are ultimately going to be crushed by the Spanish, due to their harsh and cruel behaviors. The Spanish, who are God fearing Catholics, are not much better and are also violent and determined in both taking what they want from the locals and attempting to introduce Christianity to the native people.

Cortes is described as being a great leader of men, they type who could lead his followers off a cliff, but who is driven by a determination to better himself and gain recognition by the King in Spain, and these characteristics drive him even more than his lust for gold. He wants gold mainly to further his goals of acceptance and power.

Aguilar comes across as weak and pathetic and is a poor example of a man of God. He is jealous of Cortes engagement of Malintze as an additional interpreter. Other Spanish men are also depicted as being frightened and diminished beings, including the Jewish Vitale, who is desperately anxious to reveal his heritage and New Christian status.

I love history and I really enjoyed this book from a historical perspective. It submerges the reader in the culture and atmosphere of the time and I learned a great deal about both the Spanish and the Mexica way of life at that time. My comment on the overall plot line, however, is that the plot is driven only by the history and is not really strong enough, in my opinion, to support a trilogy. I felt this first book moved rather slowly and I kept expecting Cortes to make a move on Motecuhzoma and his famous city but that didn’t happen. I was left the book ended rather abruptly and left the reader hanging and this was rather disappointing.

Purchase The Serpent and the Eagle

31 thoughts on “#Bookreview – The Serpent and the Eagle by Edward Rickford

  1. Great review…you know as well as anyone that the balance of historical accuracy and riveting narrative is a difficult one to maintain, and a slow-moving trilogy is perhaps a bit much to ask

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is hard to get the right balance of history and excitement, John. I have written my new book on a dual timeline which features the ghosts in the modern time and goes back to their historical circumstances and how they died to tell the historical story. I have used a theme of gold to tie it all together. My first book, While the Bombs Fell, was more like this one of Edward’s. They are both more fictionalised biographies. I think the market for this type of story is more limited as a lot of people want fast action. That is my opinion and I’ll see how well A Ghost and His Gold does when I publish to test out my theory of needing a strong story line to balance out the history.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this mindful review, Robbie. While it’s been a very long time, I’ve read a couple of novels set in that era. You’re right — it’s hard to sympathize with either group. Best to Edward. Hugs on the wing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It was interesting to contrast your review with the editorial reviews (which are really blurbs, I reckon). It sounds as though there might be a genre problem, that the book might have been better as creative nonfiction than a novel?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, LIz. It is a bit difficult when you write a book based on non-fiction. I know that from my own writing. You cannot really stray far from the known facts. I have solved this problem partially by making up my characters and not using real people. This really is a very good book, and the research is outstanding. I would call it a fictionalised biography personally.


  4. This would be a great time to read about, although hard to emphasize with the ruling classes. Good review and I hope the rest of the series picks up.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I know this time and place mostly through its beautiful art, particularly its spectacular textiles. But I know there was greed and cruelty on both sides. I wonder if a truly enlightened leadership is possible. Certainly one that looks to conquer could not be so. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for the very deep going review, Robbie! Sorry, i am once again a little late. What a very interesting historical fiction. It seems historic themes in whole would become a very interesting category in future. Be well, stay save with your, and dont eat all the wonderful artwork, you’d created. Lol Michael

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never eat my artwork, Michael, but others aren’t as nice as me. My nieces love to eat it. This was a very interesting book, Michael. I enjoyed learning so much about the history of Mexico. I know a lot more about European history than American history.

      Liked by 1 person

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