Review: Feathered Serpent

Feathered SerpentFeathered Serpent
by Colin Falconer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Feathered Serpent / 0-609-61029-5

Falconer shows his genius again with this fantastic novel. The characters of Cortes, Malinali, and Motecuhzoma are brought to vivid life on the page. In careful steps, Falconer outlines how a handful of men can wreak havoc on a powerful empire - provided that they are aided by a powerful mythology, by united allies driven by a long-standing enmity, and by a detrimental caution on the part of the empire.

While I am not a student on the period in question, Falconer appears to hit the topic of historical accuracy as closely as one can expect with a historical novel. Cortes is shown to be a very clever tactician, but burdened with an unbending conviction of his own rightness at all times. Malinali is proud of her birthright and impressive talents as interpreter, but she has learned that women and slaves have little power in her world, and she uses her power carefully and cautiously. Motecuhzoma walks a fascinating tightrope between a shrewd emperor and a superstitious man, plagued by the many doomsday prophecies that his unhappy subjects issue on his head.

"Feathered Serpent" really shines with careful use of secondary characters to highlight the many aspects of the conflict. One Spaniard prefers the lifestyle of the American Indians, and he provides a useful narrative counterpoint by explaining that the American Indian custom of sacrificing humans is not fundamentally different in his view from the Spanish custom of burning witches, heretics, and Jews. Another Spaniard grapples with his initial distaste for the American Indians as it is rapidly counterbalanced with his growing distaste for his fellow Spaniards. The native woman Rain Flower acts as a foil to the determined Malinali as she struggles to gauge between her duty to her Spanish "husband" against her desire for her Spanish lover.

Powerful and tasteful, "Feathered Serpent" carefully treads the historical and the personal by giving private details of the lives and thoughts of these compelling people without sliding into vulgarity. This book is a fantastic introduction to this period in American history and is a compelling read - I couldn't put it down until I finished it entirely.

~ Ana Mardoll

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