This multiple POV journey allows Rickford to depict each scene from the view point with the most on the line, heightening tension. But by switching from the heads of Cortez’s crew to that of the native Mexica, I found myself rooting for both sides and falling ambivalent to who would claim victory.
The Serpent and the Eagle is an emotional journey through the eyes of a Mexica King, conquistadors, a slave girl, and so many more caught in the Spanish hunger for gold. Dramatizing the landing of Cortez in the New World, the novel follows his social maneuvering with natives to obtain riches. Each chapter changes the narrator’s POV allowing the reader to also experience the anxiety the “pale ones” bring to native Mexica. As a result, the tension in this book is created from mental turmoil rather than militaristic campaigns, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
There are also so many characters in this novel it can be hard to keep them straight and none are really fully developed. The closest developmental arc follows the power struggle between Cortez’s translator, Aguilar, and the native slave, Malinche. As the only one who speaks Nahuatl, Malinche quickly realizes she can exploit her skill to raise her station and later how she can twist Cortez’s words to influence perception. I enjoyed watching her subtle, clandestine grasp for power and hope to see her manipulative side further developed in Book 2.
However Rickford’s engrossing story telling makes up for any shortcomings associated with the large ensemble of characters. His words flow from the page like silk, pulling the reader into period not commonly seen in historical fiction. Each character’s voice is masterfully crafted and distinct. I never would have picked up this book without prompting, but I would have missed out. This is a perfect read to branch out from a reading rut, learn about a different era in history, and try something a little off from mainstream.
About the Author, Edward Rickford
Ever since Edward was young, he has enjoyed writing. College gave him the chance to combine his interest in history with his passion for storytelling and he mainly writes historical fiction now. To research The Serpent and the Eagle, Edward read centuries-old texts and traveled to Mexico repeatedly, even retracing Cortés’ route through central Mexico. For his writing, he has won the Best in Category prize in the 2017 Chaucer Book Awards and the Deixler-Swain prize for his undergraduate thesis on the Spanish-Mexica war.