Jaguar Warrior by Sandy Fussell begins with slave boy Atl imprisoned in a box waiting to be sacrificed.
When the Spanish invade a fast runner is needed to request help from the nearby city of Purepecha; Atl is released.
However, the Captain of the Temple Guard believes Mexica is losing the battle because Atl has not been sacrificed as promised and pursues him. Accompanied by two friends, Lali and Zolan, Atl races through the jungle. Unknown to him, the Captain is hunting not far behind. Atl must make the decision to run to freedom or to complete the task he has been given.
Sandy Fussell, the author of Jaguar Warrior has been fascinated by Mexica (Aztec) history, ever since she was a child.
It’s such a dichotomy – the advanced, intellectual society sacrificing people so the sun would rise. Mexica civilization is an interesting look at how different beliefs shape history. It’s always tempting to look back and judge based on what we know today or our modern day ethics and values. I wanted to put the bloodthirsty stereotype version of Aztec history into perspective for younger readers while using it as the historical backdrop for an action adventure.
Jaguar Warrior is for readers 9+. While it is set in a culture known for their bloodthirsty sacrificial practices, Sandy says it is not a violent or gory book.
I am very conscious of historical context – the need to get the facts right and in perspective – as well as the age of my readers. This balance was one of the main challenges when writing the story.
The story seems to really resonate with young readers and I asked Sandy why.
Readers tell me the chase is very exciting. One reviewer thought the story was so action packed she compared it to an Indiana Jones plot! There are jaguars, crocodiles, ghostly figures in the mist, slave traders, ambushes and the ever present threat of being captured and returned to the Temple for sacrifice.
As a writer, I know I get very attached to my main character. I get to know them so well that they start to seem like a friend or even a family member. Atl, in Jaguar Warrior seemed very real to me, and Sandy obviously has a close affinity with him.
Atl has a lot to learn about himself and he’s not happy to listen to anything his companion, Lali, has to say on that matter. He thinks she is an annoying show-off. And sometimes she is but she is very smart. It hasn’t been easy living as a slave and Atl has to decide whether to put his freedom first or even whether he can be free if he runs away from helping Tenochtitlan. He can be pig-headed and stubborn. But he is loyal to his friends when he works out who they are, and that helps him make his decision.
THE RESEARCH PROCESS
The thing Sandy enjoyed most about writing this book was doing the research.
I discovered this wonderful book called The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico by Miguel Leon-Portilla. It’s a collection of translated oral Nahuatl language accounts of the Spanish invasion – a perspective I hadn’t explored before. History is so often written by the victors and the Mexica people didn’t have a written language (although they kept hieroglyphic records) so it was the first real access I had to a native primary source. Plus some of the poetry is very haunting and beautiful.
THE HARDEST PART ABOUT WRITING JAGUAR WARRIOR
The hardest part was developing the reader relationship with the villain, the Temple Guard Captain, Huemac. I tell the story from two perspectives – that of the hero and the villain. I wanted the reader to know both equally well. But I wanted them to dislike Huemac intensely. And then, when I had achieved that, I wanted to turn the reader around and convince him/her to allow Huemac to be redeemed. (Which in Mexica culture meant to return to life for a brief period as a butterfly!)
Teacher’s notes and a web quest, Daily Life in an Aztec City are available on Sandy’s website www.sandyfussell.com
Tomorrow at Kid’s Book Capers, Sandy is going to talk us through the inspiration behind her much-anticipated fifth book in the Samurai Kids series, Fire Lizard.