Praise for The Serpent and the Eagle
“The epic encounter of Aztecs and conquistadors has attracted—and tested—many a novelist. The challenge is one of staying believably true to the historical tale and its Mexican setting, while at the same time offering the reader some surprises. Rickford rises to that challenge with considerable aplomb, balancing evidence with imagination, research with flights of fiction. Fueled by a complex narrative tension and a deft deployment of detail, The Serpent and the Eagle is unpredictable in all the right ways.”
—Matthew Restall, Professor of Colonial Latin American history, Director of Latin American studies at Penn State, author of When Montezuma Met Cortés and Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest
“Edward Rickford knows his history. The Serpent and the Eagle is a masterpiece of historical fiction. It’s filled with surprises and heart-rending characters, but it’s Rickford’s attention to cultural details, both native Mexica and Spanish, that puts this book one step above its competition. Plan a long weekend of reading. You’re going to love this book.”
—Kathleen O’Neal Gear, New York Times bestselling author of People of the Canyons
“A captivating, well-plotted, bicultural dramatization of the months prior to Motecuhzoma’s meeting with Cortés, deftly transporting the reader 500 years back into the eyes and intimate relationships of key participants—Mesoamerican and European, emperor and counselor, conqueror and slave.”
—Andrew Rowen, author of Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold
“This is a wonderful premiere novel from Mr. Rickford, a young novelist I had the pleasure of hearing speak at Morgan State University’s 2019 History Day. I wish all the best as he pens more historical fiction novels.”
—N.D. Jones, USA today bestselling author
“The Serpent and the Eagle is a finely crafted story that will captivate anyone interested in history… a lively and entertaining look at people and the greed that drives them.”
—Keith Julius, Readers’ Favorite
“This story weaves a rich tapestry of Spanish conquistadors and native Mexica—commonly known as the Aztecs—as well as the neighboring native tribes, that transports readers to the lush jungles and grand cities of pre-Hispanic Mexico. The writing is clear and easy to read, with just enough Spanish and Nahuatl to add deep flavors without slowing the pace. The characters are vivid—both the Spaniards and the natives—and are well-researched, as they are mostly based on historical figures. The drama is ever-present, both in action and dialog. As this is a first novel, I expect this author to go on to write more excellent stories. I will be looking for more of his work in the future.”
—Casey Robb, author of The Devil’s Grip
“In The Serpent and the Eagle, Edward Rickford details Hernan Cortes’ 1519 expedition to explore and secure the interior of Mexico for colonization, fleshing out known facts with the human factor—it is, to the typical depiction of Cortes’ exploration of the Yucatán peninsula, what a chorus is to a solo or a tulip to a bulb. Primarily narrated by individuals who were actual members, or may have been members, of this expedition, Rickford has crafted a fascinating tale of intrigue, love, lust, greed—essentially all seven of the deadly sins—within two diametrically opposed political and cultural systems.
The story follows the fates and fortunes of these individuals as they explore the Yucatán Peninsula before Cortes’ march on Tenochtitlán, the capital of the expanding Aztec empire in the 16th century. It has five major narrators and several minor narrators:
Captain Hernán Cortés was a Spanish adventurer, who left Cuba with a small fleet of ships manned by soldiers and slaves for the mainland of the New World, purportedly to “…find gold and serve God and King;” He rescues Father Aguilar, a Catholic priest, on Cozumel Island where the priest had suffered years of enslavement by an indigenous tribe. Vitale, a New Christian of Jewish descent, is a crewmember on the Santa María de la Concepción. He befriends Solomon, a Moorish slave, who grew up in the Emirate of Granada Al-Andalus when Muslims, Jews, and Christians all lived there in peace. Doña Marina is a slave girl who rose from obscurity to power and ultimately became Cortes’ confidante and consort.
Through the eyes of various tribal leaders, including in particular Motecuhzoma, the Aztec Huey Tlatoani, and several of his trusted counselors, the story takes the reader into the complex socio-political-religious system of the Aztec, and other indigenous tribes of pre-Hispanic Mexico.
The Serpent and the Eagle is rich with historical and cultural detail and faithfully follows the events as recorded at that time. The multitude of narrators and situations can be challenging to follow. We suggest reading this novel with a pen and paper handy for inevitable note taking.
Rickford has written a book that forces the reader to reflect on the influence of history on the present, the possibilities when two cultures collide, and the impact of conflicting belief and ethical systems on human behavior.
Not a fast read, but well worth the time it takes. Prepare to be entertained, educated, and challenged to think.”
“Author Edward Rickford sets in motion a thrilling adventure story when the indomitable Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, makes landfall in the New World and begins his quest to locate and plunder the Aztec empire.
The story unfolds aboard Cortés’ ship, The Santa Maria de la Concepción where we meet the expedition’s translator, Father Aguilar, in conversation with Cortés. Their dialogue spins a complicated web of intrigue between Cortés and Father Aguilar that sets the tone for the rest of the story.
Rickford then takes us to Motecuhzoma’s court to meet one of his trusted generals, Tezoc, ‘The Cutter Of Men.’ Using these four characters as the cornerstones of the story’s narrative, Rickford weaves in a panoply of action and adventure, taking us across richly described jungles and tense encounters with native tribes as Cortés strives to take Motecuhzoma’s gold and return home to Spain a hero.
Cortés’ unflagging pursuit is constantly tested as the expedition slogs its way through a beautiful but deadly landscape. I especially enjoyed Cortés’ leadership skills; manipulating traitors among his men and negotiating with native adversaries even when his confidence in himself and in those he trusts is put to the test.
As in all good stories, the end isn’t what you’d expect. Rickford keeps us on the edge of our seat as Cortés puts together an ambitious plan that leaves his men no way out in order to sustain his expedition for the final assault on Motecuhzoma’s capital, Tenochtitlan.
The Serpent And The Eagle is expertly written and painstakingly researched. Author Rickford has captured a fascinating historical moment and turned it into an absorbing story that makes the history come alive.”
—Jim White, author of Borders in Paradise
“In the Serpent and the Eagle, Edward Rickford has achieved wonderful world-building/scene-setting to the extent that even if you aren’t familiar with the history surrounding the novel, you can pick this book up and enjoy it regardless. The entire events of Cortez’ expedition do not unfold in this book, but that is due to the fact that it is only the first in a trilogy. So there will be far more Aztec goodness coming our way in the future.
The Serpent and the Eagle details incredibly well the events that lead up to just before the meeting of Cortez and Montecuhzoma and it does so from the view points of various characters. We hear from slaves, translators, Aztec (Mexica) people, men of the expedition and even Cortez himself. Each pov has a unique aspect regarding the overall story and ties in really well. My own knowledge of the period is fairly good, but not in-depth enough to pick out parts that may have been artistic embellishment. That lack of knowledge isn’t a bad thing as it just adds to the whole enjoyment factor of not knowing everything that is coming.
I particularly enjoyed the way Cortez intelligence shines through when dealing with the newfound Mexica people that are close at hand and when dealing with the ties that bind him back home in Spain. He is an interesting character due to how the reader both has reasons to like and admire the man, but hate him for his darker transgressions.
I only have two slight drawbacks regarding the novel as a whole. The first being that, in some places, it feels like it moves a little slow. I prefer a pretty fast pace throughout and this, in parts fell a tad short of my preferred pacing. Not enough for me to not enjoy it, however. My second point would be that in places the speech felt a bit laboured. Mostly regarding the Mexica people (but in places the expedition of Cortez was a tad guilty of this). When someone said something to someone else, they would often, during the same conversation, say the same thing in two or three different ways and it just made the flow seem to halt a little.
My drawbacks were not nearly large enough to overshadow the enjoyment I got out of the piece, however. The Serpent and the Eagle is well worth picking up for anyone with a love of historical fiction. “
—Aaron Booth, author of Life Eternal
“The Serpent and the Eagle is an emotional journey through the eyes of a Mexica King, conquistadors, a slave girl, and so many more caught in the Spanish hunger for gold. Dramatizing the landing of Cortez in the New World, the novel follows his social maneuvering with natives to obtain riches. Each chapter changes the narrator’s POV allowing the reader to also experience the anxiety the “pale ones” bring to native Mexica. As a result, the tension in this book is created from mental turmoil rather than militaristic campaigns, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
This multiple POV journey allows Rickford to depict each scene from the view point with the most on the line, heightening tension. But by switching from the heads of Cortez’s crew to that of the native Mexica, I found myself rooting for both sides and falling ambivalent to who would claim victory.
There are also so many characters in this novel it can be hard to keep them straight and none are really fully developed. The closest developmental arc follows the power struggle between Cortez’s translator, Aguilar, and the native slave, Malinche. As the only one who speaks Nahuatl, Malinche quickly realizes she can exploit her skill to raise her station and later how she can twist Cortez’s words to influence perception. I enjoyed watching her subtle, clandestine grasp for power and hope to see her manipulative side further developed in Book 2.
However Rickford’s engrossing story telling makes up for any shortcomings associated with the large ensemble of characters. His words flow from the page like silk, pulling the reader into period not commonly seen in historical fiction. Each character’s voice is masterfully crafted and distinct. I never would have picked up this book without prompting, but I would have missed out. This is a perfect read to branch out from a reading rut, learn about a different era in history, and try something a little off from mainstream. “
—K.M. Pohlkamp, author of Apricots and Wolfsbane
” This book is fabulous! I love historical fiction, and this novel didn’t disappoint. I knew little of the Spanish invasion of Mexico – and this novel managed to intertwine historical fact with riveting prose and intriguing characters.
I enjoy multi POV novels as a way of understanding how conflict affects different sides. This is where Edward Rickford excels. We read the views of Mexican kings, Spanish captains, and captured slaves – weaving war, romance, fear, and conflict into the story. Highly recommend this for anyone who likes novels like The Last Kingdom.”
—Shauna Lawless, Amazon reviewer
“This is an impressive debut that brings to life events in 16th century Mexico. Most of us have some vague idea about Cortes’ conquest of the Aztec empire but Edward Rickford brings it to life with vivid descriptions and brilliant action scenes. The story is told from a number of different viewpoints so that we see events unfold through a lens distorted by the ignorance and prejudices that afflicted both sides of the conflict. The author’s detailed knowledge of his subject is plain to see. This is apparently the first in a trilogy. I look forward to reading the next two installments. “
—Olly Pwengl, Goodreads reviewer
“I’ve read this book slowly, chapter by chapter and been excited to get on to each succeeding one. It’s a very historically accurate tale, as far as I can tell, with lots of real historical characters within its pages. I particularly love a historical novel like this because I can google the characters and see what they looked like or find out what happened to them in the end. My favourite character was Malinche, the ex-slave girl taken on by Cortez to become his translator. You’d imagine she was a figment of the writer’s imagination to inject a feminine slant and some romance into the story, but she’s not. She’s a bona fide real person and her story is fascinating.
The action sequences are well written, the characters well drawn. I preferred the bits about the Spaniards mainly because I liked the interactions between them and felt they were more easy to relate to than the Mexica. The parts about Motecuhzoma (can I spell it?) are often to do with politics and that isn’t interesting to me. I’m far more interested in what the Spanish characters are doing, particularly Malinche.
There is a sequel coming up, I gather, as this story finishes where the Spanish are just about to head to Tenochtitlan. I shall be looking forward to reading that.
Excellent book cover!”
—Flicka, Amazon reviewer
I spent most of my childhood in Latin America. I grew up with the stories of “La Conquista”, the Spanish conquest of the former so impressive pre-Columbian empires, the Inca in Peru, the Aztecs – or Mexica, as Mr Rickford prefers to call them—in Mexico. Add to this that I had a history teacher who had two major passions in life—England in the 14th century and the pre-conquest history of Mexico—and I count myself as something of an amateur expert on the campaigns led by Pizarro in Perú and Cortés in Mexico.
It was therefore with some trepidation I approached this book. After all, these are complicated events and the main characters are just as complex, and the temptation to simplify must be difficult to overcome. Mr Rickford does not simplify—not beyond what he must to make the story comprehensive to the more uninitiated. He presents us with an excellent portrayal of Hernán Cortés, this ambitious, greedy, driven man who had the temerity to set out to conquer an empire with less than a thousand men. Cortés is not a nice man. But he is brave and resourceful; now and then he even shows a glimmer of piety.
Opposing Cortés is Motecuhzoma, the Mexica emperor. Here Mr Rickford presents us with a man who feels in his bones that the pale people are bad news but who prevaricates, not knowing for sure how to handle this new threat. This is a cultured man, surrounded by his equally cultured generals and advisors who enjoy high-quality alcohol, collect ceramics, precious works of art in jade—all of this in stark contrast to the bloodier side of their culture: the daily human sacrifices to appease the gods.
The Mexica did not come to dominate their world through their enjoyment of art, but rather because they excelled at warfare. At times, I felt the brutal aspects of the Mexica were too downplayed. In The Serpent and the Eagle, the aggressors are the violent, barbaric Spanish—but it is important to remember that other native people allied with the Spanish because they had experienced the equally violent and barbaric qualities of the Mexica in full conquering mode.
Mr Rickford tells his story through various POVs, among which are Malintze/Doña Marina and Solomon. Solomon is an old Moorish slave with little love for the Christians who have enslaved him. His POV adds depth and reflection to the unfolding narrative as well as an element of determinism: Solomon fears that the tribes that flock so eagerly to ally themselves with Cortés will one day wake up to discover that their partnership with the Spanish was never one between equals, and that once the Mexica are defeated, the Spanish will subdue all the native peoples.
Malintze is the single female voice in the story, a young woman sold as a slave by the Mexica who now has an opportunity to get her own back. Intelligent and endowed with an ear for languages she soon becomes indispensable to Cortés, acting as his interpreter. He frees her and treats her with respect and for the first time in her short life, Malintze tastes the intoxicating brew named “power”—and finds she likes it.
The grandeur and complexity of the Mexica culture is brought to vivid life by Mr Rickford. The vicious greenery of the jungle, the colours of the native birds, the harshness of the wilderness—all of it is vibrantly depicted, usually through the POV of the Spanish newcomers, who are both entranced and intimidated.
Ultimately, though, this is the story of how one man and his determination to enrich himself led him to take on a vastly superior enemy in an unfamiliar world. Cortés plays the political game as a chess master dominates the chequered board, both against those among his fellow Spaniards who question him and against the native tribes he encounters. Inevitably, the Mexica will march towards destruction—but The Serpent and the Eagle ends before the final confrontation takes place, making me assume there will be a continuation.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. What is more, I know that my old teacher would have done so as well!
—Reviewed by Discovering Diamonds
“If I were to describe The Serpent and the Eagle in one word, it would be “earnest”. It is indeed a very earnest book, a work of undeniable effort and knowledge, and a clear passion for the topic.
“Hernán Cortés is only one of many protagonists coming to life on the pages; the character of Malintzin, the native translator and a controversial historical figure of significance to modern day Mexicans also plays an important role, as well many of the Mexica nobility, Motecuhzoma II and his closest advisors included. The narrative is a rich tapestry of many voices and perspectives, from slaves to conquistadors to kings, and what it lacks in writing skill it makes up for in the adherence to historical facts. I was impressed by the historical accuracy of the novel and particularly enjoyed the peeks into the everyday life of Mexica, knowing that the author did everything he could to preserve the historical details.”
“I also deeply appreciated the double perspective, seeing the situation both from the Spanish and the Mexica (as well as many other tribes’) point of view gave me a better understanding of the events of the Conquista, the cultural differences between the Old and New World, and the complex political situation of the Mexica empire. The description of the technological and resource gap was ethnographic, aptly showcasing the variety of human reactions to the perceived differences, which made for an intriguing read and introduced much needed perspective of everyday life. It reminded me slightly of the Annales school of history and Jacques le Goff’s wonderful insights on the Medieval Europe. I especially appreciated the way Rickford handled the topic of gold, the source of the infamous “malady of the heart” of the Spaniards, and how the differences in the appreciation of the material between the Mexica and the Spanish helped to fuel the inevitable conflict.”
—Ola G, Book blogger for Re-enchantment Of The World
“The Serpent and the Eagle is another literary text that may offer the reader exits out of the colonial wound of indignity and entrances into the enunciative reclamation of silenced historical, social, and cultural spaces.”
—C.T. Mexica, Ph. D, Arizona State University