Fantasy authors often find the past a rich source of inspiration. That said, many oft-published authors seem to focus on a specific place (Western Europe) and time (the medieval period). If they don’t want to bother learning about history, they can rely on templates provided by previous authors. So many previous authors…
The world is a very large and old place, however, and there is no compelling reason for authors to reject alternative inspirations. These five authors, for example, turned to Mesoamerican history and folklore to produce five very different works.
The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2021)
Justly concerned that their master Teotah would escalate from sorcerous abuse to outright murder, Yalxi, Xellah, and Itzyul ambushed and murdered the old mage. Itzyul died saving her friends. Yalxi commandeered old Teotah’s enchanted Diamond Heart. Prudence dictated that she destroy the cursed gem. Instead, Yalxi used the Diamond to become Mistress of the House of Sorcery.
A decade later, having followed the traditional career arc from excessively ambitious apprentice to power-drunk sorcerer, Yalxi is deposed in turn by Xellah. Xellah takes the Heart for his own. Yalxi tried to resist what remained of Teotah in the gem, but, weaker willed than Yalxi, Xellah soon comes under the sway of Teotah’s faded shadow. Soon it will be as though Teotah had never died at all.
Xellah spared Yalxi but only so he could tap her magically-imbued blood. The sorceress manages to escape. Badly wounded and without the Heart, she seems no match for Xellah. However, she is still the woman who as a mere apprentice helped overpower Teotah.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (2020)
The Carrion Crow worshippers were slaughtered on the Night of the Knives by the Watchers, thus assuring the ascendency of the Sun Priest. A golden age of reason and order (or so we are assured by the Sun Priest) began, one whose founders no doubt expected to last lifetimes, many lifetimes. After all, the only serious threat to the Sun Priest’s regime is now at best a remnant. Who ever heard of a suppressed religion recovering from a major setback?
Far from Tova, Sun Priest Naranpa’s seat of power, sailor Xiala wakes to discover she has in her drunken enthusiasm violated city-state Kuharan’s draconian moral laws, for which the penalty is execution. Lord Balam rescues the sailor from certain death, at a price: twelve years of service.
Xiala’s first task on behalf of Balam: deliver the mysterious Serapio to Tova in just twenty days. This demands a direct passage across the Crescent Sea. The Crescent Sea itself presents sufficient dangers to concern Xiala. What she should really be concerned about, however, is what happens once she delivers her enigmatic passenger to Tova.
The Bone Flower Throne by T. L. Morganfield (2013)
Having been bitten by the god Quetzalcoatl’s feathered serpent, Quetzalpetlatl is now marked as the god’s own. Quetzalpetlatl can now sense when the servants of the dread god Smoking Mirror are close. This enables her to determine that her uncle Ihuitimal is an avid devotee of Smoking Mirror, Quetzalcoatl’s bitter enemy. Too bad that she has been promised as a bride to Ihuitimal’s son Black Otter. Awkward.
Thanks to misguided mercy on the part of Quetzalpetlatl’s father Mixcoatl, Ihuitimal and Black Otter are merely exiled. Thanks to a network of supporters, they soon return. Mixcoatl is slain and his city falls under the control of Ihuitimal and Smoking Mirror.
Quetzalpetlatl and her mother Chimalma elude would-be assassins and flee to neighboring Xochicalco, where Chimalma dies giving birth to Quetzalpetlatl’s brother, Topiltzin. The Topiltzin, in fact. Xochicalco is a city-state too large to be easily conquered. Ihuitimal and his allies scheme to assassinate them, but subterfuge takes time… Time in which brother and sister may be able to formulate a plan to deal with their malevolent uncle. Or perhaps not.
Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard (2010)
Death is natural, an unavoidable part of the world. Accordingly, God of death Mictlantecuhtli commands cautious respect as one who rules a fundamental aspect of existence. Acatl, Mictlantecuhtli’s priest, has many duties that demand daily attention. Being drawn into the role of amateur detective should not be one of them.
Priestess Eleuia has vanished. Perhaps she absconded under her own power but the fact her room is painted with blood suggests otherwise. The signs suggest she has carried off by some occult means. Whodunnit? Acatl is tasked to find out.
The list of people who wanted Eleuia dead is short. Near the top of the list is Acatl’s warrior brother, Neutemoc. With authorities more concerned with finding someone to blame than with finding the correct person to blame, either Acatl clears his brother or Neutemoc is doomed. And there is no guarantee Neutemoc is innocent.
The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy (1986)
Elizabeth Waters escaped unwanted motherhood and a stultifying marriage by taking up a career as a field archaeologist. Key to her success: what almost seems like a sixth sense for promising sites. Elizabeth does not in fact have an arcane ability to sniff out ruins. She does have a sixth sense for sniffing out the ghosts who sometimes call ruins home.
Centuries earlier, Zuhuy-kak sacrificed her own child in a failed bid to protect her people from invading Toltecs. The invaders disposed of the grieving priestess, tossing her into a convenient cenote. This worked in Zuhuy-kak’s favour as her child’s death did not; the priestess survived the plunge. Revered as a messenger from the gods, she transformed once-bustling communities into ghost towns.
Centuries later, Zuhuy-kak’s specter notices Elizabeth, another mother. Elizabeth’s talent for seeing the dead makes her vulnerable to the priestess’ machinations. Zuhuy-kak can guide Elizabeth to the hidden secrets of the past. The cost? Elizabeth must sacrifice her own daughter.
No doubt you have your own favourite Mesoamerican-inspired fantasies. Feel free to discuss them in the comments below.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and the Aurora finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.