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 Mixtli: ...And I concluded with the words I had heard in various languages everywhere:

"The Azteca were here, but they brought nothing with them, and they left nothing where they went."


Aztec is a 1980 historical fiction novel written by Gary Jennings. It is the highly lengthy life story of a noble Aztec (more properly Mexica) man named Mixtli, or "Dark Cloud." After the Spanish Conquest, Mixtli is asked by the Bishop of New Spain to tell his life story to a group of friars who are recording his story for the King of Spain. The novel is notable for being one of the first ever depictions in media of the Aztecs as heroes, rather than villains, though certainly there are plenty of both among the Mexica pre-Conquest. It is also notable for not shying away from graphic depictions of both sex and violence (and sometimes both at once), as might be expected from a society like that of the Mexica.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: More on the maternal side, but both are extremely demanding on their children, even by Mexica standards.
  • Achilles in His Tent: An interesting inversion: whenever Mixtli suffers a Heroic BSOD, he tends to leave and go wandering, rather than stay at home.
  • Aerith and Bob: An in-universe example: Almost everyone in the various Mexican nations is named for some concrete object or action, such as Dark Cloud, Blood Glutton, etc. So when Mixtli first learns that one character from another nation has a name that means simply "Always," he is understandably taken by surprise.
  • Anonymous Benefactor: The person who gives Mixtli the trade goods needed to start his dream of becoming a traveling merchant. He at first assumes it's Nezahualpili.
  • Anyone Can Die: If you like a character at all, be sure that they will die in an unusually cruel way.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The Mexica hate the Spaniards because the latter have slaughtered countless civilians, forced an alien religion upon the Mexica people, disrespected the Mexica traditions and culture, and don't bathe.
  • Aztec Mythology: Duh.
  • Badass Grandpa: For someone who considers himself "a bag of wind and bones," Blood Glutton certainly qualifies.

 Blood Glutton: I said EAT!

    • For those wondering, he's just ordering the last survivors of a band of brigands who hoped to fool Mixtli's party by pretending to be fellow travellers to eat the heads of their fellows, who Blood Glutton ambushed whilst they were waiting in ambush and decapitated them all without alerting the "bait" bandits.
  • Big Bad: Lord Joy for the "childhood arc," Chimali during the "traveler arc," and Cortez (duh) for the "conquest arc."
  • Big Damn Heroes: Intentionally invoked by Blood Glutton during a bandit attack. Also, averted by Narvarez and his troops, who at first seemed like this to the Mexica but, thanks to the Foregone Conclusion, couldn't be. Also averted during Mixtli's "war" experience. He catches the Mixteca's biggest war hero by hiding behind a bush and cutting off the Mixteca's feet—a rather ignoble ending to a military career.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Plenty of random Nahuatl and Spanish is thrown around, although the Nahuatl is at least fairly easy to infer through context.
  • Black and Gray Morality: On the one hand, we have the Mexica people, who have levied massive tributes from the surrounding villages, performed human sacrifices almost daily, and have made Mixtli's life a living hell on more than one occasion. On the other, we have Cortez and his troops, who have committed multiple acts of unprovoked slaughter, abused the hell out of Montecuzoma's hospitality, and show zero tolerance for any of the Mexica religious rites.
  • Break the Haughty: If ever things seem to be going a little too well for Mixtli, you can bet all the gold in Tenochtitlan that some horrible catastrophe will befall him within the next few pages.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: A large part of Mixtli's "childhood arc."
  • Bury Your Gays: Averted. While the Mexica themselves hold homosexuals in contempt (considering them "unmanly," the fact that Chimali and Tlatli are gay ends up having significant impacts on the plot.
    • Also important in the sequel.
  • Butt Monkey: Mixtli's slave Cozcatl, as well as (pre-Conquest at least) Malintzin.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Beu Ribe's refusal to admit her feelings for Mixtli leads to a series of horrible misunderstandings between them for most of the second half of the book.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Mixtli's burning crystal/monocle thing. It becomes one of his son Tenamaxtli's most prized possessions in the sequel.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Mixtli's ability to read and write the Mexica word pictures, his ease with mastering unfamiliar languages, and his artistic ability will all impact his life, for better or worse, once the Spaniards show up.
  • Chick Magnet: Mixtli, to almost ridiculous levels. Seems to run in the family as well, if the sequels are any indication...
  • Cool Sword: The Mexica maquahuitl, a blade studded with sharp obsidian chunks For Massive Damage.
  • Coming of Age Story: The first three arcs are this.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: It's the Aztecs, what do you expect? But a special mention goes to Mixtli himself, for his unique method of taking revenge on the priests who used his daughter as a human sacrifice.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: La Noche Triste.
  • Darker and Edgier: Unusual for a book that starts out Dark And Edgy to begin with, but by the time Cortez shows up, the book has become positively Pitch-Black And Razor-Sharp.
  • Dark Secret: The cacao-bean man and his revelation of what really happened to Tzitzi.
  • Dead Little Sister (well, not quite dead...)
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mixtli, often, especially to the Spanish priests transcribing his story. Also, the old soldier Blood Glutton gets his share of snarkiness as well:

 Blood Glutton: (when Mixtli embraces him) Unhand me! Are they enlisting cuilontin now? To kiss the enemy to death!?

  • Disproportionate Retribution: Everything Chimali does, especially after he had already "evened the score" with Mixtli.
  • Doorstopper: The hardcover copy weighs in at 754 pages. One can only imagine what a paperback copy would look like...(It's just shy of 1000 pages. My well-loved copy fell apart under the strain.)
  • Downer Ending: The Mexica civilisation is utterly destroyed by the Conquistadors, and Mixtli, after sharing his history with the friars and finally learning that Beu Ribe secretly loved him all along and was jealous from the beginning that he married her twin and not her is condemned as a heretic and sentenced to death by being burnt at the stake.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Invoked by the priests during a ceremony to the Rain God Tlaloc, using gigantic drums.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Blood Glutton, at least during the first arc.
  • Duel to the Death: Mixtli vs. Chimali.
  • Dull Surprise: Mixtli sees most of the sacrifice rituals this way. Then again, he was raised in the culture, so it's probably Justified.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Blood Glutton.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The smelly, dirty, hairy, hideous Spaniards, to the Mexica at least.
  • Everything's Better with Chocolate: The Mexica discovered it, after all... Though, admittedly, they drink it as a mixture that contains powdered chili pepper seeds...
  • Everything's Better with Rainbows: During one of his trading ventures, Mixtli meets a crystalsmith who shows him a prism. Mixtli is mesmerized.
  • Face Heel Turn: Chimali, Malintzin, and Montecuzoma.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Tzitzi becoming the Tapir Woman.
  • Five-Bad Band: They don't ever all work together, but they strangely fit:
    • Big Bad: Cortez.
    • The Dragon: Chimali
    • The Evil Genius: Lord Joy
    • The Dark Chick: Jadestone Doll
    • The Brute: Pedro de Alvarado
    • Sixth Ranger Traitor: Malintzin
  • Five-Man Band:
    • The Hero/The Smart Guy: Mixtli
    • The Lancer: Cozcatl
    • The Big Guy: Blood Glutton
    • The Chick: Tzitzi (first arc)/Zyanya
    • Sixth Ranger: Beu Ribe
  • Foil: To Mixtli, arguably Chimali and the other Mixtli.
  • Foregone Conclusion: And done quite powerfully, too. From the moment Mixtli first hears about the great "winged houses" on the eastern sea, you just know all of the places and characters and cultures you've come to know and love are doomed within a few years.
    • Not to mention, Mixtli is being interviewed by Conquistador-era Spanish Christian Priests. Mixtli being sentenced as a heretic is subtly on the horizon from the start of the book.
  • For the Evulz: Everything Jadestone Doll does, pretty much. Also Pedro de Alvarado. Both of these examples were Truth in Television.
  • Gladiator Games: The elderly Nezahualpili challenges young and athletic Montecuzoma to a ball game between the two of them, with the stakes being leadership of the Triple Alliance shortly before the arrival of the Spaniards.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The Mexica priests believe this, and panic when Cortez destroys Tlaloc's shrine. Unfortunately for the Mexica, Cortez isn't speared by lightning for doing so.
  • Go Look At the Distraction: As a child, Mixtli's friends often did this to him to tease him for being nearsighted.
  • Heroic BSOD: On at least two occasions.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Mixtli and Cozcatl.
  • Hufflepuff House: Tlacopan, the third member of the Triple Alliance. Tenochtitlan and Texcoco both play important roles in the plot and are home to Mixtli at various times, but Tlacopan is just kinda there. Lampshaded near the end of the book, when Tlacopan's role as the third member of The Triple Alliance is explicitly spelled out for the readers...even though 700+ pages have already passed. It's just THAT unimportant.
  • Europeans Are Bastards: The Spainards, both during the conquest arc and during the pre-chapter excerpts, are portrayed as far nastier than the Mexica are, for all their supposed superiority.
  • I Found You Like This: After Mixtli is attacked by bandits during one of his Heroic BSOD wanderings, he wakes up in the care of Zyanya and Beu Ribe. He is, understandably, completely confused.
  • I Gave My Word: And we all know how much Cortez's word is worth...
  • Insistent Terminology: Mexica, not Aztec. Mixtli is also constantly stopping to remind the friars recording his story how ridiculous and utterly nonsensical the Spaniards' new names for places really are. (Example: Texcala is turned into Tlaxcala, which means tortilla. And another pretty name gets changed to Cow Horn.)
  • Ironic Echo

 Mixtli: It would be a weakness, a sullying of what we felt for each other.

  • Ironic Name: From the very first arc, we have Lord Joy, among others.
  • Kick the Dog: Happens repeatedly to Mixtli. See Break The Haughty above. Also, arguably done to the Mexica as a whole by the Spaniards.
  • Living Labyrinth: How the Revered Speaker of Texcoco executes his enemies during the second arc.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: For starters, we have: Mixtli, Tzitzitlini, Chimali, Tlatli, Head Nodder, Blood Glutton, Cacao-bean man, Cozcatl, Jadestone Doll, Nezahualpili, Ahuitzotl, Red Heron, Lord Joy, Huexotl, Black Flower, Xococ, Something Delicate, Armed Scorpion...and that's only the first two arcs.
  • Lucky Seven: The book can be divided up into seven clear "arcs:" Mixtli's childhood, his work for Jadestone Doll, the trading journeys south, his married life with Zyanya, his post-marriage life in Tenochtitlan, the arrival of the Spaniards, and his old age post-Conquest.
  • Mad Oracle: The cacao-bean man.
  • Mayincatec: Averted. The Incas (correctly) don't appear at all and are mentioned only one time, the Mexica are a distinct culture that is the focus of the novel, and Mixtli visits the clearly different Maya people on at least two occasions.
  • Meaningful Name: Names are very important to the Mexica, so often Mixtli will pause his story to reflect on how well a newly introduced character's name ended up fitting their actions.
  • Monumental Battle: La Noche Triste and The Siege Of Mexico Tenochtitlan, both taking place in one of the biggest cities of the ancient world.
  • Moral Myopia: Displayed by both the Christian monks who are recording Mixtli's story and Mixtli himself. In the former, there are plentiful examples, such as the priests being disgusted by many acts that Mixtli references but not even batting an eye at the atrocities committed against the Mexica by the Spainards, or their dismissal of the plagues that they have brought to the vulnerable South Americas as simply "God's work". Mixtli's most prominent act is the fact that, while he waives off anything "wrong" with a Human Sacrifice he mentions early in the books, he goes berserk and kills the priests responsible when his own daughter is taken as a sacrifice.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: About 99% of the time Nahuatl words are used in the book, you can bet they're describing some sort of obscene sexual term. Averted later on, when Mixtli mentions that the first words he hears of Spanish was an extremely vulgar sentence...given to us in plain English!
  • Never Found the Body: Tzitzi.
  • Not Me This Time: A humorous example: Mixtli has by this point become so well-known for his sexual exploits that when the Bishop returns to hear the next part of his tale, Mixtli remarks:

 Mixtli: Dare I suppose that Your Excellency joins us today expecting to hear how I ravished the entire female population of Zaachila? No? If, as you say, it would not surprise you to hear it, then let me really surprise Your Excellency. I did not once touch a woman there.

  • Omniglot: Mixtli's many travels made him one.
  • Papa Wolf: Mixtli, although sadly he's too late to do any good.
  • Pet the Dog: Mixtli giving Cozcatl his freedom. Also, when Blood Glutton, previously a Drill Sergeant Nasty, comes to their aid during the journey south.
  • Power Trio: During the "travel arc," we have the three travelers: Blood Glutton (Id), Mixtli (Ego), and Cozcatl (Superego).
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Everything the cacao-bean man tells Mixtli on his first visit to Tenochtitlan.
  • Reinventing the Telephone: Mixtli, with the help of a crystalsmith in one of the southern lands, invents the magnifying glass and, later, the monocle. In the sequel, Mixtli's son Tenamaxtzin reinvents grenades.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Mixtli himself on at least two occasions, as well as Chimali for about two-thirds of the book.
    • Basically the entire point of the sequel.
  • Romantic False Lead: Tzitzi.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Every single Mexicatl from the nobility must be this, even commoners who provide outstanding services to the empire can earn a noble rank. Mixtli eventually becomes one.
  • Shown Their Work: And how! Practically everything except Mixtli himself has some basis in Mexica history. (Yes, even Jadestone Doll's..."dalliances.") Not to mention every bit of Nahuatl, Mexica culture, warfare, government...heck, it would probably be easier to list everything that isn't.
  • Stealth Pun: Plenty of them, in both Nahuatl and Spanish.
  • Take That: At medieval Catholicism, European imperialism, the supposed superiority of Western culture, and sterotypes of Native Americans, among others.
  • The Archer: Arrow Knights are noted to be given the rank of Knight in the Mexica army not for the number of kills and captures they have made, but by how well they can use the bow and arrow.
  • The Gump: Mixtli himself, although subverted in that most of the pre-Conquest events he ends up being part of are not common knowledge to the majority of readers, but were very significant to the Mexica and other nations of the area.
    • Also Chimali, to Mixtli's personal life.
  • The Hero Dies: Goes hand-in-hand with the Foregone Conclusion.
  • The Hero's Journey The third "arc" focuses on this.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Montecuzoma, although this was Truth in Television. Also, any of the nations that chose to ally with Cortez.
  • Tsundere: Beu Ribe.
  • We Can Rule Together: Cortez makes this offer to the Tlaxcala. He's lying.
  • Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Blood Glutton continually remarks during their journey in the third arc that Mixtli is giving away so much of their trade goods for free that they won't have anything left to sell.

Here end the roads and the days.

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