Today, Literary Clutter will be taking a trip into the past — into a time of slavery and blood sacrifice; a time of exciting adventure and thrilling dangers. Today, we go back in time to the Aztec civilisation with Sandy Fussell’s novel, Jaguar Warrior.
Atl is a young slave boy in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, who has been chosen for sacrifice to the Serpent-Sun god. But when the Spanish attack, the high priest Ichtaca releases him, sending him on a mission — to get help from the city of Purépecha. On the way he meets up with a runaway girl named Citlali. Together, they race for Purépecha, as they are pursued by the ruthless Captain Huemac. Can this boy escape the Captain’s pursuit, save the City of Tenochtitlan and become a Jaguar Warrior?
This is an exciting children’s novel, which paints a vivid picture of the Aztec people and their civilization — not just the big picture stuff, like religion and sacrifice, but also interesting details such as what people ate and how they used cacao beans to make chocolatl drink. But it is not only a history lesson. Jaguar Warrior is an exciting adventure with an array of interesting, well-conceived characters. Although clearly aimed at children, the book has much to offer the adult reader. I enjoyed it so much, that I immediately emailed the author and asked for an interview. So, it is with great pleasure that I welcome Sandy Fussell to Literary Clutter…
Hi Sandy! One of the first things that struck me about the Jaguar Warrior, was the amount of research that must have gone into it. Can you tell us a little about the research?
I usually know quite a bit about the historical setting before I begin my research. I have been collecting books about ancient civilisations since I was in primary school and studied Ancient History at university. My initial approach is to read widely, looking for interesting facts and trivia as well as story pieces and ideas. The Internet is wonderful for this sort of research as one link leads to another and what might start out as investigation into the significance of owls in ceremonial practices will end up on a page about making hot chocolate from chocolatyl beans.
I read a lot of historical non-fiction, both adult and junior titles. I find the latter particularly useful as they often contain large numbers of diagrams and pictures, which are excellent inspiration. One of my favourite research books for Jaguar Warrior was The Broken Spears by Miguel León-Portilla, which is an historical account from the perspective of the Aztec (Mexica) people. Most records of the fall of any civilisation are written by the victors, and often ignore the indigenous point of view.
What made you decide to set a children’s novel in the Aztec world?
My story ideas often begin with a paradox and the question it raises. For Samurai Kids it was: “Belonging to the samurai, the best warriors in the world at the time, is a consequence of birth. But what if you had a disability that made it really hard to claim this birthright.” For Polar Boy it was: “The Inuit people are very fearful and live in such a harsh, unfriendly environment. But at the same time they are joyous and celebrate the land. How can this be possible?” And for Jaguar Warrior it was: “How could the Aztecs be an intelligent and compassionate society but carry out such cruel sacrificial practices?”
The answer to the last question lies in what the Aztec people believed and how we interpret their actions based on our beliefs, not theirs. I wanted to communicate this to my young readers. The Aztec people believed without question that if blood sacrifices were not made, the sun wouldn’t rise and the world would be destroyed. While sacrificial victims were often prisoners of war, in times of peace cities would organise tournaments called the Flower Games, with the losers being sacrificed, to ensure the world was kept alive.
That’s all we’ve got space for this time… but fear not, Sandy will be back next post. To find out more about Sandy and her writing, check out her website.
And tune in next time for part 2 of this interview.
Catch ya later, George