‘Age Of Aztec’ is the fourth book in a series of Science Fiction novels by British author James Lovegrove, all based on the idea that the Earth has been conquered by beings who appear to be the gods of a particular historical culture. I reviewed the first three novels, ‘The Age Of Ra’, ‘The Age Of Zeus’ and ‘The Age Of Odin’ for SFCrowsnest in 2011. As the name suggests, this book is set in a contemporary but parallel version of Britain which has been taken over by a world-spanning Aztec Empire.
As the book opens, we see just how much Britain has been absorbed into that empire. It is a Sunday in late November and huge crowds have assembled where St. Paul’s Cathedral used to stand. It is now the site of a huge ziggurat, at the top of which a priest appears at noon and proceeds to sacrifice dozens of willing volunteers to the Aztec gods in thanks for another bountiful year. The public spectacle is rudely interrupted when a terrorist who calls himself ‘the Conquistador’ appears from nowhere, kills the high priest and then escapes into thin air. The Chief Inspector in charge of the policing and security operation is executed for his incompetence and Inspector Mal Vaughn is promoted to take his place. Her superiors make clear that she is to concentrate all her efforts on catching the Conquistador, whose many audacious assassination missions over recent months have become extremely embarrassing for the regime. She knows that if she doesn’t succeed where her last three predecessors have failed, her tenure as a Chief Inspector will be short indeed.
However, Vaughn is an inventive and daring policewoman. Having realised that each of the Conquistador’s attacks on priests is more ambitious than the last, she sets a trap for him that she knows he won’t be able to resist, dressing her entire team up as priests and sending them to an open-air theatre performance. When the Conquistador takes the bait, the trap is sprung. Although he is an excellent fighter, he is so heavily outnumbered that there can only be one outcome. He is mere moments from capture when a group of Mayan revolutionaries appear from the back of the stalls and rescue him, paralysing the police using blowpipe darts tipped with mild curare.
The Mayan revolutionaries want to bring the Aztec Empire down just as much as the Conquistador does and they are keen to recruit him to their cause. When they tell him their plan, which is to capture and kill the supreme ruler of the Empire, called the Great Speaker, he rejects the idea as wishful thinking and returns to his own mission. However, Chief Inspector Vaughn has not gone away and once she identifies the Conquistador’s civilian identity, he has to run. When the Mayan’s rescue him from Vaughn for a second time, he goes to Mexico with them. Since his missions in Britain are no longer possible now his cover is blown, he decides he’ll throw his hat in with them for want of anything better to do. However, Vaughn is not easily put off, so even after being suspended from work for insubordination, she pursues him to Mexico anyway. Will the Conquistador be able to help the Mayans kill the Great Speaker or will Mal Vaughn get her man, despite no longer being officially on the case?
‘Age Of Aztec’ was a delight to read and is a worthy successor to James Lovegrove’s earlier titles in this series. It features several great characters, of whom by far the best is Chief Inspector Mal Vaughn, an incredibly tough and intelligent woman who can hold her own in a male-dominated society. The background details of the Aztec religion and culture are integrated into the story extremely well, the plot is full of more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at and there is a good balance between gritty reality one moment and lighter, humorous scenes the next.
It is difficult to think of anything I would criticise in this novel. It includes several scenes featuring graphic sex and violence which some readers may find a little strong for their tastes, but these scenes are integral to the plot and none of them seemed gratuitous to me.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Age Of Aztec’. James Lovegrove appears to have this particular sub-genre of SF stamped with his name and I look forward to seeing what he does with it next.
(pub: Solaris/Rebellion Publishing/HarperCollins. 405 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-907992-60-3)
check out website: www.solarisbooks.com