REVIEW FROM KIRKUS REVIEWS, APRIL 15, 2008
CONQUISTADOR: Hernán Cortés, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs
Lively account of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
Levy (Writing and Literature/Washington State Univ.; American Legend: The Real-Life Adventures of David Crockett, 2005, etc.) portrays the momentous clash of two cultures through the characters of their respective leaders. Hernán Cortés, in his early 30s, was restless, haughty, deeply Catholic, trained in law and relatively untried when he arrived in 1519 at Cozumel, Yucatán, under the aegis of the governor of Cuba. Montezuma, five years his senior, had been the semi-divine ruler of the glorious Aztec confederation of Tenochtitlán, Texcoco and Tacuba for two decades, living in strict accordance with a host of gods who orchestrated human destiny and required appeasement in the form of human sacrifice. As the Spaniards moved inland, Cortés used fancy cavalry demonstrations and pyrotechnics to stun his opponents and seize the upper hand, despite the fact that his 500-man force was vastly outnumbered. Gifts from Montezuma failed to stop the invaders’ advance to the wondrous water-encircled city of Tenochtitlán, where Cortés achieved a bloodless coup d’état and essentially imprisoned the humiliated Montezuma. Levy carefully picks his way through the subsequent Aztec insurgency, Montezuma’s death and the terrible retreat from Tenochtitlán, during which Cortés’s gold-laden army was nearly exterminated in an encounter known as La Noche Triste. Threatened and aided in turn by rival Spanish incursions, Cortés would make a spectacular, calculated comeback in the construction of a small navy capable of amphibious assault on the Aztecs’ 200-year-old city.
Conveys with ghastly power the relentlessness of Cortés, the tragedy of Montezuma, the brutality of battle and the utter bewilderment of one culture in the face of the other. (Agent: Scott Waxman/Waxman Literary Agency)