Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2008.
Itacate's family is one of change in Tenochtitlán, ruling city of the Aztec Empire. At her and her twin's births, great change was foretold. For her brother Mitotiqui, victory; for Itacate, doom to their community. As she grew, she became determined to prove the priests and gods wrong. Her parents before her bucked the system. Her mother was raised by peasant farmers, her father by a privileged goldsmithing family. Her father was ostracized for marrying her mother but retained his trade. From that time on, he chose to live apart from other tradesmen, keeping to himself, even when his wife died in childbirth. The kids were raised largely by a faithful housekeeper.
As the story begins, Itacate is of an age to be pressed into household chores. When given the task of baking, she molds the bread into figurines until it is barely fit for consumption. Her jealousy of her brother's goldsmithing apprenticeship really kicks in when she becomes trapped into weaving cloth, a tiring task that she abhors. When he shows her his first finished piece of jewelry, she tells him what's wrong with it. Her father overhears and is impressed by her knowledge, so he goes against custom and allows her to start her own apprenticeship. She has a natural talent that he lacks. Mitotiqui becomes jealous of the praise from their father, and in a fit, offers himself up for sacrifice to the gods in a year's time. He is removed from their household in preparation for the ceremony at the spring festival.
While Itacate and her father are reeling from the impending sacrifice, unforeseen events start to occur. There are strangers in the land that make their way to the city of Tenochtitlán. The people first hear about it through rumors, disturbing rumors of conquered lands. When the strangers arrive (led by Cortés), Montezuma (the Aztec king) allows them into the palace unchallenged. Montezuma becomes the prisoner of the Spanish visitors. Itacate loses her heart to one of the Spaniards. The people of Tenochtitlán are so used to Montezuma's commands and pronouncements it takes them a while to respond to the takeover of their city.
Because of the prophesy at her birth, Itacate wonders if the current events are a result of her disobedience of the gods. Besides her participation in a craft forbidden to women, she also rages against the gods for her brother's predicament. Then, she is embroiled in a huge deception regarding goldsmithing for Montezuma. No good can come of this behavior. In a culture that relies heavily on the idea of sacrifice to appease gods, is it any wonder she feels responsible for the catastrophic events? Her relationship with Francisco and the fact that the all-powerful Montezuma has been overcome help Itacate to reject that thinking.
There are many parallels to Landman's I Am Apache. They have similar themes, though different times, places and cultures. Both have an independent female protagonist in a nontraditional role. Both have an unusual setting at a time of great transformation due to European conquerors.
Landman has done an excellent job of recreating the Aztec's community. The story is soaked with the sacrificial burden. Oddly, Itacate questions a society that seems to leave little room for questioning and noncomformity. But it would be difficult to read of the culture without a character doing so. Landman depicts Montezuma as the ruling authority. Even the priests bow to him, as he commands the empire's soldiers. The empire spans a large enough area that the people are convinced by Montezuma that it encompasses the whole world. So it is all the more frightening to learn of conquerors, from they know not where. The imprisonment of Montezuma surely means they have lost the favor of their gods.
The goldsmith's craft lends an air of magic and allows a gateway to the palace for Itacate. It is also the reason for the Spanish takeover and obsession.
I like the ending, with Itacate and Francisco escaping to start new lives separate from the Aztecs and Spanish, as many would have done. I enjoyed reading about the Aztec culture, and I am glad there was no attempt to tie
the story into the 2012 ending of the calendar. Instead, it focuses on the
destruction of the city of Tenochtitlán on the verge of Spanish rule.
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