Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Jaguar House, in Shadow

Novelette by Aliette de Bodard

This is the first I've read of it, but apparently Aliette de Bodard has a series of stories set in this world: a futuristic (nanotech, etc) alternate history where China discovered America first, resulting in the survival of the Aztec civilization, and their rise to become a significant power.

The three main characters of this story are knights of the Jaguar House, one of several powerful noble houses. Tecipiani has risen to power as head of the order, and has made the Jaguar House into collaborators with a mad dictator's murderous rule over Mexica. While other houses stand up to him and die honorable deaths, she leads the Jaguar House to betray their ideals and help the dictator.

Onalli is the hero of the story, she is a rogue knight who can't stand the direction her house has taken. The meat of the story is Onalli's self-appointed mission to rescue Xochitl, her best friend, another Jaguar knight, who is being held in the House and tortured for being a traitor (a sentiment Onalli agrees with). Interspersed with the stealth and action are several flashbacks to the three girls' shared childhood. They are all idealistic in different ways, and you can see the conflict coming even then. Not out of some competitiveness, but a belief that each is unquestionably right.

Some exciting action sequences combining nanotech enhancements, tranquilizers, knives, and Aztec mythology, this one keeps you on the edge of your seat. But through the careful character work in the flashbacks between the two girls who are now adversaries, we can get into both their heads. Onalli is righteously angry about the direction both the country and her House have taken, and can't stand what she perceives as cowardice. But Tecipiani makes this interesting, as we can see how she believes she is only doing what she has to for the survival of the House. An interesting examination of why collaborators do what they do.

4 Jaguar Knights out of 5.

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