From the beginning, At Road's End, set during the Pre-Aztec era, jumps into action. Tecpatl, an Azcapotzalco warrior, has been assigned to escort a group of traders to their destination. To Tecpatl, an ancient world snob, traders, merchants, villagers - well, pretty much anyone who isn't a warrior - are lowborn and scarcely merit his attention. Only Michin, the leader, can control Tecpatl's warrior instincts to some extent. Tecpatl's nature is well-defined by the following passage:
"The scent of the battlefield kept haunting Tecpatl's nostrils. He frowned, eyeing the merchants. They gulped from their flasks. A few looked back defiantly.
I should kill one or two of them, he fumed. That will teach them a proper respect."
Tecpatl's warrior nature is exacerbated by his escort duties. He made an unforgivable error in the past and shepherding merchants through a desert is his punishment. Death is honorable, mistakes are not. He must redeem himself, if at all possible, and return home to his Azcapotzalco nation situate on the shores of Lake Texcoco. War is brewing between the Azcapotzalco nation's powerful neighbor, the Culhuacan, and upstart Aztecs, recent arrivals at Lake Texcoco.
Tecpatl's mundane duties take a more ominous turn when a massacred village is discovered en route. The only survivor, a young girl, Sakuna, is unable to identify the attackers. She leads Tecpatl and the merchants to her father's home, the Great Houses, a religious and cultural center. Tecpatl rapidly learns about cultural and religious differences, which are incomprehensible and downright ridiculous in his opinion.
At the Great Houses, Tecpatl is most unpleasantly surprised to learn no trading will take place until after the Summer Solstice, at least another 8 days. To add to this unwelcome news, he learns Sakuna's father has a hidden agenda, one which involves him escorting merchants on a side trip. This does nothing to improve his already volatile mood, as his goal is to deliver the traders to their destination and arrive in Azcapotzalco sooner rather than later. However, this seemingly innocuous trip becomes dangerous when Tecpatl and Sakuna's party is ambushed.
From the few details Sakuna provides from the massacre at her village and the ambushers' techniques, Tecpatl believes the Great Houses in danger of the same fate as the village. His challenge is to convince the leaders of the Great Houses and plan a strategy to protect the residents. He must overcome overwhelming obstacles if he is to be successful.
Saadia presents fully fleshed-out characters who remain true to their basic natures. She permits them to learn a few life lessons along the way, but not in such a manner as to be unbelievable. The action is well paced and the novella does not sag at any point. Saadia is most definitely a talented writer, with a gift for engaging readers.
My only caveat with At Road's End is it contains minor grammatical and spelling errors. Saadia had this novella and the sequential 3 novellas in this series re-edited within the last month. The first copy provided to me was rife with errors. It has improved immensely, but still contains some oversights. If you are able to overlook this flaw, At Road's End is an entertaining novella about an era rarely explored. If this detracts from your reading pleasure, you might have difficulty enjoying At Road's End to its full potential.
Due to the above, I rate At Road's End at 3.5/5 (very good). If the grammatical and spelling mistakes are corrected, I would not hesitate to upgrade my rating to 4/5 (excellent).
MY RATING: 3.5/5 Stars (Very Good)