Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: "War God" by Graham Hancock

 On vacation this year, my summer reading of choice was "War God: Nights of the Witch".

Author's Website:
"War God", by Graham Hancock

I've also read Graham Hancock's excellent book about lost civilizations, "Fingerprints of the Gods". That book was a non-fiction investigation of ancient history, but "War God" is a novel, set in Mexico during the Spanish conquest of the Americas.

I am very interested in Mesoamerica cultures, such as the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca, and have studied them for many years. Before starting "War God," I read a book about the writing system of the Maya and how it related to their rulers. "A Forest of Kings" by David Freidel & Linda Schele was a scholarly read that was very detailed with archaeological  & ethnographic information.

Despite all the knowledge you may gain about a given culture, nothing helps you understand the lives of the people of the time like a good narrative or story. A character-driven story puts you mentally into the experience of the culture, like a virtual trip into another time & place. I believe video games can do the same thing- more so than movies or TV, in which you are a passive observer. The Mel Gibson movie about the Mayan culture "Apocalypto," however, is an example of a movie that effectively puts you into the setting of a certain time period. "War God" would also lend itself to an awesome cinematic rendition of a historical culture.

Anyway, "War God" is definitely a good story, and is engaging from the first chapter. Although I took periodic breaks from reading it over the last month or two, I was always looking forward to picking it back up & continuing the trip back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

Although I was very familiar with the history of the Aztecs (or as they called themselves, the Mexica) and the conquistadors, Graham Hancock has presented their story in a way that kept me wondering what would happen next.

The book takes place from the perspective of many different characters, including major historical figures such as the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, and the Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés. These powerful personalities are joined by the experiences of more "common" characters- such as Tozi, a young girl who has magical powers, or Pepillo an innocent boy who joins the expedition as a page for a sadistic Inquisitor priest. Despite the number of characters, their various perspectives are integrated very well, and give a sense of an all-encompassing view of the story's events.

There are many deep questions Hancock addresses in this novel- including the opposing human characteristics of brutality & compassion, the influence of religious ideology on people's thinking, the dynamic between two clashing cultures, the nature of the visionary experience, and the effects of the individual upon human history.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading "War God" and found myself looking up much of the historical information presented in the book, to gain a better understanding of this era.

This is the first book of a trilogy, and I look forward to reading the sequel, "War God II: Return of the Plumed Serpent", a reference to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, or Kukulkan to the Maya.

If you have any interest in Mesoamerican cultures (especially the Aztecs or Maya), American or world history, or just an enthralling narrative, I would highly recommend "War God" by Graham Hancock.

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