Jaguar: A Short Story

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Under the Jaguar Sun Background

Perhaps a collection of stories or a novel set in the world this author has created would offer a better read than a novelette. The prose is readable. Mark Watson on Best SF. The crux of the story is how three colleagues have grown apart over the years, as each takes decisions based on where they draw the line as to what is acceptable in taking forward the society which they wish to see prosper.

The narrative is taken forward as the backstory is gradually revealed to us, so that the denouement of the narrative reaches a climax as the earliest days of the characters are revealed.

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On Tangent :. De Bodard has clearly done her research—it shines through every word of this novelette. The story is set in the recurring universe of Xuya, where the Chinese discovered America before Columbus and radically changed the history of the continent, and she has a novel out, Servant of the Underworld, which is set in the same universe, and will be released in North America in September. Where most Aztec-related works of fiction are written from the viewpoint of outsiders us , this story comes from the viewpoint of Onalli, who is a Knight of the Jaguars, and it infuses this tale with a richness that few stories have.

You and I have been raised from the cradle to believe that inflicting pain on ourselves or others is wrong, that life is precious, and that human sacrifice is at best futile, and at worst an abomination. This is not how Onalli or her fellow Jaguars feel; she has her own Worship Thorns with which to pierce herself; she offers personal pain to the gods as both penance and worship; and she knows in her bones that without human sacrifice the world would end—the sun would no longer shine. But this is not the Mesoamerica we know, where the Aztecs never discovered the wheel, full of stone pyramids almost too steep to climb; this is a world where Aztecs have nanotechnology, Asian tourists, maglev transportation—but all served by the Houses of Jaguar, Eagle, Skull and Otter, who serve the Imperial House in turn.

I guess the source of attraction for the story is the setting and it is more interesting than a lot of the default fantasy worlds we get. The story itself is completely threadbare though and fails on both levels.

Something Rich and Strange: Ron Rash on Short Story Writing – an Interview

As an action story of Onalli rescuing Xochitl it is utterly lacking tension. Onalli pretty much walks in and walks out again, this is obviously filler for de Bodard. The bigger story — the story of a friendship between three friends torn apart by political differences — is her priority but is just as problematic. To start with the friendship is never probably established; Tecipiani always seems an outsider and a bit of a dick.

Worse, the moral conflict between the protagonist who believes in free speech, justice and opposing corruption and the antagonist who believes in facism and genocide is hopelessly one-sided. This means that the final conclusion in which we are meant to emphasise with Tecipiani simply becauses she believe she did the right thing falls flat on its face. The moral side of the story definitely feels safe, though. What struck me about that, actually, is how the weighting is really embedded into the structure of the narrative.

I found the ending very satisfying, in the way that a blurred kaleidoscope suddenly focusing and revealing a clear image is satisfying. I would have liked a clearer account of the publicly-stated reasons for destroying the various other houses, some sense of what flavor of mad the Revered Speaker was manifesting. Those time-marker headings just feel like bad TV to me. Here I felt like I was missing too many pieces of the puzzle.

I could have used more background on the political situation. It felt to me like those background questions threatened to drown out the three-person drama. That kind of physical and pharmaceutical torture has or should have lasting effects. This is true; it is shaped to suggest tension so we generate it ourselves. However, with each return to the present day sections I found this stepped down a level for me as it became more and more clear de Bodard had nothing behind the curtain.

Jaguar MK Ten Story

Similarly, the fact it begins with the anonymous italicised section holds open the possibility that it is describing any one of the three main characters. Presumably some tension is meant to be generated from this supposed ambiguity but I never really felt it. The things you identify that would improve the story for you are things I actually needed for the story to work for me.

To me it reads like de Bodard deliberately leaving out the hard bits, the thorny bits of both thinking and writing that are needed to support the central relationship and revelation. Does Xochitl recover, does the Jaguar House survive the current administration? It barely worked for me. I found the ending somewhat confusing.

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Tecipiani has given up everything in order to keep Jaguar House from being destroyed by the Revered Speaker as the other Houses have; then she stages a scene, brightly illuminated in the middle of a courtyard, wherein as Commander of the House she lets two agitators go? And she expects the Revered Speaker to allow Jaguar House to survive after that?

It is a little more complex than this, I suspect—Tecipiani seems to have planned the encounter thinking she would kill or be killed, but then encounters the boy Onalli has left wounded, and is moved in some way by this. Does Tecipiani not realize this?