For the record, this is a free book review. I even paid for my copy of Five Dances myself. For an explanation of why I agreed to do another free book review after vowing not to do them ever again, read yesterday’s post, “Words are Yummy.”
Five Dances With Death: Dance One. Austin Briggs. 2011. Helvetic Press.
If stories of human sacrifice and Aztec magic are your thing, then I recommend Briggs’s work of historical fantasy, Five Dances With Death, without reservation. Go and buy it now. If you’re not necessarily into that sort of thing, you might want to reserve judgment until you’ve read the full review.
Five Dances tells the story of the protagonist, Angry Wasp, a warrior of a small Aztec nation searching for his kidnapped daughter while his people are being threatened by both the arrival of the Spanish and the stifling reign of Montezuma.
An integral part of the storytelling in Five Dances revolves around Wasp’s wife’s expertise in black magic. She teaches him to navigate the Void, leading to several out-of-body scenes in the book. If I’m honest, these scenes were difficult for my brain to process. Rather than take them for what they were and maintain my reading momentum, I’d get hung up on the allegory asking myself, “But what does it all mean?” And though it may well have been that way by design, I found it slightly discouraging. I felt a little lost at times—not a feeling I particularly enjoy as a reader.
That said, I was always relieved to return to the more straightforward narration, and I found the bits of action enthralling. Sacrificing humans to appease the gods? Cutting out their beating hearts? That’s some fascinating stuff, folks, and Briggs writes the blood and gore very well. Without being too over the top, his depictions made me wince as I imagined what it must have been like to have lived in that place at that time.
Which brings me to more praise for Briggs’ work. If you visit his website, he explains that he spent “10 years researching the history of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish conquest.” I totally believe it. Five Dances illustrates a mastery of historical context.
(A quick aside: while I was gathering affiliate links to include in this post, I noticed one Amazon reviewer mentioned a glossary at the beginning of the book. It would have been nice to know that before I started reading. The Kindle apparently skips forward beyond this section. So, Kindle owners? Turn back a few pages when you open the book. You’re welcome.)
A final word. If you know me at all, you know that I’m rather vocal about my loathing of self-published works. They are notoriously full of typos, sport atrocious cover designs and commonly lack substance. Not the case with Five Dances With Death. I mean, I did notice a typo, but it’s nice to be able to attribute that to inevitable human error rather than absolute carelessness for once. And, yeah, I’m looking forward to Dance Two.