Friday, January 10, 2014

At Road's End - Zoe Saadia

    2012; 155 pages.  Prequel to the Pre-Aztec Trilogy.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Action-Adventure; Historical Fiction.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Traders.  Pig-headed, filthy, annoying, stubborn, manure-eating traders.  And to add to the indignity of having to be their hired guard, Tecpatl has to endure their arrogant attitude towards him, a glorious warrior!

    Cheer up, Tecpatl.  The journey into the deserts of (what is present-day) Arizona may be long, hot, dry, and boring; but there are forces nearby that are far more powerful than the usual solitary bandit, and they are heading your way.  Destiny awaits you.  At Road’s End.

What’s To Like...
    At Road’s End is an ambitious blending of the Action, History, and Romance genres.  The writing is story-driven, so it’s weighted more towards the Action.  But the Historical detail is sufficient to make the setting believable, and the Romance is enough to keep the female audience reading, while not losing the male audience.

     According to the author’s afterword, the story is set in the 13th century.  Tecpatl is a member of the Tepanec tribe, based in central Mexico, and neighbors to the upstart Aztecs who, while not yet a predominant force in the area, seem to be on the rise.  The trading sortie journeys into the territory of the Anasazi, at a time before they disappeared into the dusty veil of history.  This is a setting that will cause Historical fiction enthusiasts to drool.

    The history is well-researched.  I questioned whether Tecpatl’s main weapon would be properly called a “sword”, and whether passionate kissing was part of Mesoamerican culture.  Both turned out to be accurate, although double-checking the latter was quite the challenge.

    There aren’t a lot of characters to keep track of, and the two main ones, Tecpatl and Sakuna “evolve” nicely as the story progresses.  There is a kewl underlying theme about understanding cultures other than your own.  There are one or two “adult situations”, but nothing graphic.  There’s no cussing unless you count “manure-eating”, and if you find that offensive, I pity you.

    Some of the chapters start with a “jump” in the timeline.  For instance, one moment Tecpatl is fleeing for his life, the next moment (and at the start of the next chapter), he’s lying in a pond, refreshed and clean.  Zoe Saadia immediately fills the gap with a short backstory, but the style did leave me confused a couple of times.  But let's not quibble.  Overall, the writing is excellent.

    Two men jumped from the upper terrace.  They were only a little taller than the women, but very sturdily built.  One clutched a short pole as though holding onto a club.  The second was weaponless.  Their hair was rolled into funny neat buns above their ears.
    I can beat them easily, thought Tecaptl, appraising the situation.  Another man’s head popped from the rectangular opening.  But I’d better check the possibility of a retreat.  (loc. 436)

    “People who go to sleep miss something very special.”  She shivered and pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders.  “When I was a child I would sometimes slip out at night and run away into the desert and the fields.  When the moon deity is up, the spirits are definitely there, wandering, busy.  You can just feel them.  And they are not frightening either.”  She sighed.  “Back then the spirits were kinder to us...”  (loc. 786)

Kindle Details...
    At Road’s End sells for $2.99 at Amazon.  The (other) three books in the trilogy all sell for $3.99.  Zoe Saadia has nine other books available for the Kindle, all of them set in pre-Columbian America, and all also for $3.99.

“Does it make a difference to you where you die bravely and honorably?”  (loc. 1354)
    At 155 pages, At Road’s End is about the same length as the other three books in the series (192, 158, and 223 pages respectively).  I’m therefore not sure why this was designated a prequel, unless it was written after the others.

    Due to its brevity, there is nothing “epic” about the book.  But it’s easy-to-read, packed with adventure, and set in an era that is historically fascinating.  There might not be any 10-page discourses about how the maize was cultivated way back then, but some of us think that makes for a better read.  At Road’s End has the “feel” of a YA story, yet will still keep adults entertained.

    8 Stars.  Add 1 star if you are a Historical Accuracy nitpicker and couldn’t find anything wrong here.

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