Set in an alternate world where Spaniards never conquered the Americas
Delores opened her eyes and by reflex, groped for her swollen belly. Her pale skin was taut as a drum. She listened, her attention trained on every slight impulse of her body. When she finally heard a kick, a feeble smile transformed her livid lips. Relief smoothed away the fear and pain. For one moment, her world was cleansed of nightmare.
This was no dream, but a bottomless well of screaming, of red waves, of the patter of bare feet and faces sputtering away, extinguished like candles. Here, in the depths of this well, she relived the raid on their village once, twice, then in endless repetition. The panic, the frantic escape. Anything to get far away from the ravaged interior of their home: furniture strewn in the mud, loose cotton whirling in the air, down feathers, and hair flying loose from scalps newly cleaved. Anything to get far away from the crackle of flames and the hiss of human fat, from that terrible sound of the blow to her husband – and then, that red dash seeping suddenly through his brown hair, as if it were not she but he who was about to give birth. Delores felt an urge to cry, but the life inside of her begged her to stifle the sob in her throat.
Zoetal had carried her off, heaving her, dragging her in stride into the woods. Briars had mangled her puffy, bloodstained legs when finally, she roused herself and dug her feet in the ground, clutching her stomach. How on earth had she done it? Just yesterday, she’d spent half the day in contractions. There’s no way, she thought. There’s no way I can get up from this bed to scamper through the shrubs like a stump-legged duck. Please, at least bring a bucket – she’d asked Zoetal. But yesterday? Yesterday was a thousand years ago.
At first, she’d deceived herself. She told herself that the raiders would never chase them into the woods. That they were just petty thieves after loot: metal tools and weapons. The weapons whose craftsmanship had brought her people fame. Forbidden by the edicts of the Kruzian kings – and priceless. But no, they had not come to plunder. In no time, they set off on the hunt. Missiles hurled by atlatli whistled past like diving hawks, seeking out their guts, their hearts. This was not the first time that Delores felt herself quarry for a hunt, but back then, at least the Kruzian cronies had aimed for their legs. They treasured their hostages – live vessels for the Precious Water they’d soon pour down the red, parched throat of their eternally hungry sun.
But back then – back then was a thousand years ago.
Then there was the root, the crack of twisted bone and the first decent hiding spot: a wooded pit strewn with the leaves that fell so relentlessly here in the rainforest. The fallen leaves, and Zoetal’s soothing whisper.
Below them, there were bodies. Delores understood. She knew that their assailants had found other villages, too. That this was no chance raid but an organized campaign. For Delores and for Zoetal, this could be to their advantage. So the Kruz raiders roving through the forest had overlooked two women packed in among dead leaves and human remains. So they had pushed onward. Her lips moved soundlessly, mouthing a silent prayer. Delores huddled close to her friend and then froze. Someone was coming.
They exchanged a deep glance, embracing like the lovers they had never been. The voices of the men grew louder, hoarse and ragged with aggression, rattling with wild laughter. More bodies tumbled onto them. Blood flowed. Delores stared into Zoetal’s green eyes and then watched the light leave them with a dull hiss as a bubble of air and blood burst between her handsome lips.
Excerpt translated by Eliza Rose
Set in an alternate world where Spaniards never conquered the Americas
Let us imagine that Hernán Cortés’ fifteenth-century invasion of the coast of present-day Mexico ended in calamity for the European interlopers. Let us imagine that the Spaniards, decimated by disease, retreated to the Old World, bringing with them a devastating plague. The colonial period never happened, nor did modernity with its great strides in technology.
So begins Wojciech Zembaty’s two-part series The Hungry Sun. The books are set in an alternate world infused with fantasy elements. The title references the god worshipped by the Kruz people, who succeeded the Aztecs after the latter died off. The cruel and ruthless Kruz people built an empire, enslaving all potential rivals and rebels.
The story has several heroes and shifts between their viewpoints, recalling George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. The characters tend to represent the younger generations across diverse cultures, clans and social classes. Each of them bears the burden of tradition – a burden they must inevitably confront. Some yield to fate while others spurn it, choosing to forge their own paths.
We meet the young imperial leader Quinatzin, who toils to reform his world and curtail the power of the priests. Then there is Haran, a boy of partially European extraction adopted into the Druazz clan, who falls into captivity and becomes a forced labourer in the mines. Our third hero is Tennok of the people of the Turquoise Spear. This introvert is demure and faint of heart, a disgrace to his family and scourge to his hypermasculine father. Finally, there is the heroine Citlali, who rejects the role assigned to her as lady of the court. She refuses to bear more children or while away her life in stuffy chambers. She does everything she can to change her fate.
The world rendered by Zembaty in these two volumes is brutal yet suffused with mysticism and intriguing hallucinatory details. For the real force lording over the Kruz empire is ‘braazatal’ – a substance used to fabricate weapons that doubles as a potent narcotic. Hungry Sun reads as literary black metal, and it entrances readers with its raw, pagan gloom.
Marcin Kube, translated by Eliza Rose
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