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Quite gripping, but a little repetitive.
on 19 September 2013
I had read a number of Hancock's "non-fiction", conjecture based books in the past and often found them entertaining, if sometimes a little far-fetched in their conclusions. I was therefore keen to see how he would tackle a fictional tale, albeit one restricted by known historical fact.
This is a two-day book; you won't get through it in one sitting, but I would advise against taking too long to read it. It is full of unfamiliar place names, character names, and other terminology, so I would imagine it would be quite easy to lose track of the story if you were continually putting it down and picking it back up later.
The story is well told, but it's a pretty generic tale of primitive Mexican tribes and their Spanish conquerors. A great deal of the first half of the book will be familiar to anyone who has seen Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" movie, dealing in some considerable detail as it does with matters such as tribal skirmishes, primitive superstition, and ritual human sacrifice. The book continues on from the endpoint of the film with the beginning of Cortes' incursions into what is now Mexico, and this second half of the book is equally violent and bloody.
If I have a criticism of the book, it is that too many unfamiliar words are used, their meanings never properly explained. There must have been a dozen different types of Spanish knives/daggers/swords, but it was impossible sometimes to be precisely aware what was being written about at any particular time. Similarly, Hancock refers casually to several types of vegetation without illustrating his point properly. Was this a shrub, a species of grass, a tree? Usually an approximate idea could be gleaned from the context but occasionally something would make it clear that your idea could not have been correct.
I addition, I can confidently state that Hancock's favourite word is "obsidian". Almost everything in this tale is made of obsidian (tools, plates, armour, weapons, etc.), or has obsidian blades, or is the colour of obsidian (usually black, according to my dictionary - thank you for such lack of clarity). This becomes quite wearing and really shows a lack of imagination. Obviously I haven't counted, but the word must crop up well over a hundred times throughout the book. Someone get Mr Hancock a thesaurus before he releases the follow-up!
Overall, it's quite an enjoyable read, but the writing is repetitive. I don't suppose there are too many ways to describe chopping off a bloke's legs in battle, but I would appreciate if Mr Hancock could find some more ways of doing so for part two, which I understand is currently in progress.