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Aztec Century by C.D. Evans
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Aztec Century (1993)

by C.D. Evans

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https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/3067380.html

This is a really interesting alternate history where the Aztecs benefited from Spanish technology and cultural inputs to become the major superpower on the planet. The narrator is a princess of the British royal household towards the end of the twentieth century, just after the successful Aztec invasion of England, making her own accommodation with the new order, from a starting point of uncompromising intransigent resistance. A novel like this has to achieve the difficult tasks of intriguing the reader about the different historical track without info-dumping, while also having a decent plot that works on a human level. I think Evans succeeds very well at both - hints are dropped but never fully fleshed out about his world’s history, and the protagonist’s journey of betrayal and unreliable information at her own personal level is a nice reflection of the alternate history genre as a whole. There is a bonus insight into how our own world would look from the Aztec Century starting point. I really enjoyed this and am surprised that it is not better known. ( )
  nwhyte | Aug 24, 2018 |
'Classic SF', then, in the sense that it won BSFA Best Novel in 1994, and it's a sign of how out of touch I've been with SF that it rang no bells for me whatsoever. Also, it's an alternate history, a sub-genre whose classification as SF I've only recently come to terms with - though not in this case, since the 'alternateness' of Evans' history is technological as well as political. But what drives the story is not the cheap power and transportation, it is the survival and expansion of the Aztec empire.

I don't know enough about the Aztecs to judge how plausible this is. If events had gone otherwise, could the Aztecs have defeated the conquistadors? And if they had, might their society have developed into the one depicted here? In another novel, one where the imagined world simply provided a background for the characters and the plot, this would matter less, but Aztec Century isn't that novel. The story is told by Princess Catherine, the daughter and sister of Kings of England, who remains hostile to the invaders. She views their civilisation from outside, and her suspicions keep open questions about how far the Aztecs retain the bloodthirstiness of their past, of their old religion. So the reader is invited to speculate about who the Aztecs have become, and inevitably that speculation refers back to what you know (or in my case, don't know) about the Aztecs. To a lesser extent, I wondered too about the way history has diverged: might events elsewhere have allowed the Tsarist regime to survive in Russia? Is it conceivable that John and Cynthia Lennon have stayed together, John joined the army, been "a great royalist"? (Because as well as the big differences, Evans has a lot of fun with the effect on individuals). I wasn't swept along by the narrative, I was caught up in a conversation with the setting: a different kind of reading, but nothing wrong with it.

What really undermined the narrative for me was the narrator, Princess Catherine. The story requires her to continue her opposition to the ruling Aztecs; but it also requires her to remain at court, to be present at events which only she can report to us. She storms about telling people they are wrong, despicable, evil - and then puts on her party frock and comes down to dinner. What's more, the plot is full of plot and counterplot, it depends on the reader not knowing who can be trusted - so Catherine cannot be too perceptive about other people. It's like reading the diary of a particularly rude and self-centred adolescent.

One of the things that irritates me about Princess Catherine is not the author's fault at all. But Peter Dickinson did the 'alternate royal family' so much better, in King and Joker and Skeleton-in-Waiting; his Priness Louise is a real person (and, in the first book, a real adolescent, with all the moods and overreactions that that implies) and he is interested in her, and how her situation might affect her. This isn't what Christopher Evans is doing, but I was still conscious as I read his book that he wasn't doing it.

There's a framing device, no more than a couple of preliminary paragraphs in which Catherine speaks about her decision to write down her story; but at the very end, the story turns back on itself to connect with that introduction, and the nature of that twist introduces an entirely new element into the story. I found this very disconcerting, and not entirely in a good way; it's effective, but the artifice was slightly too obvious.

In short: a really interesting book, but not, to my tastes, a satisfying novel.
1 vote shewhomust | Jul 4, 2011 |
"Aztec Century" is a wonderful alternate history, which begins with England's conquest and occupation by the Aztec Empire. The *slightly* different world is gently but thoroughly explored, hints of Horrible Secrets are deftly dropped and left to fester, and the novel's main plot is just as engrossing as its setting. ( )
  NickBrooke | Apr 18, 2006 |
My Amazon review:

I searched for this book for years, and finally broke down and payed the outrageous sum of $30+ for it on Amazon, for a badly used copy, no less.

Was it worth it? Yes and no.

There is no doubt that Evans knows how to tell a story - his descriptions and dialogues flow well, and the story never bogs down. The characters are sympathetic and the major one are well-portrayed.

The negative points:
This is an alternate history, a world where Cortez went over to the Aztecs and helped bootstrap them up the technological ladder. Additionally, a 'New World Plague' akin to smallpox decimates Europe, further helping Aztec survival. However, there's only so many advantages you can give a culture before you enter the realm of the ridiculous. An Aztec Empire that controls more than three quarters of the globe in less than a century of conquest? I just don't see it.

Another sticking point for me was the too-similar similarity to our own world. I mean, this is an alternate earth that diverged from ours in the 15th century - how likely is it that there will be a New York, a Virginia? Or a Canada and New England? Granted, Evans doesn't dwell on _any_ of these cultures with great detail (or even less than great detail), so there's no way to tell exactly how similar or different they are. Even Britain, where the bulk of the story is set (after it is conquered by the Aztecs), is given only a cursory examination of its history.

Aztec culture is explored in greater detail, and the descriptions of the great capital of Tenochtitlan are amazing, but we don't get to Mexico until the last quarter of the book, and it seems rushed.

Another gripe was how the character of Bevan was dealt with. Bevan is a Welshman who becomes the manservant of Britain's Princess Catherine (the book's narrator). It is never clear if he is working with the underground, if he is an Aztec spy, or if he is playing some game of his own. Throughout the story, events seem to be building up to reveal his true nature, but at the end the reader is left as confused as to his identity as he was ten pages in.

So overall, I give Aztec Century 4 stars for the sheer coolness of the idea, but only 2 stars for overall execution.

3 stars. ( )
  Chanimur | Apr 14, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Evans, C.D.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Taylor, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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