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Literature / Aztec

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"Of all that I have possessed in my life, my memories are the only things remaining to me. Indeed, I believe that memories are the only real treasure any human can hope to hold always."
...And I concluded with the words I had heard in various languages everywhere:
"The Azteca were here, but they brought nothing with them, and they left nothing where they went."

Aztec is a 1980 historical fiction novel written by Gary Jennings. It is the highly lengthy life story of a noble Aztec (more properly Mexica) man named Mixtli, or "Dark Cloud." After the Spanish Conquest, Mixtli is asked by the Bishop of New Spain to tell his life story to a group of friars who are recording his story for the King of Spain. The novel is notable for being one of the first ever depictions in media of the Aztecs as heroes, rather than villains, though certainly there are plenty of both among the Mexica pre-Conquest. It is also notable for not shying away from graphic depictions of both sex and violence (and sometimes both at once), as might be expected from a society like that of the Mexica.

It was followed by two sequels by the original author, Aztec Autumn and Aztec Blood. The series was then continued after the author's death. Aztec Autumn follows the adventures of Mixtli's son Tenamaxtli as he attempts to get his revenge on the Spaniards.


The original novel provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: More on the maternal side, but both are extremely demanding on their children, even by Mexica standards.
    • Mixtli and Tzitzi's mother punishes Tzitzi for masturbating by rubbing chili powder into her vagina. Mixtli speculates on whether this may have caused her to become so nymphomaniacal in later life.
    • When Mixtli is about four or five, his mother punishes him for uttering a swear by throwing chilis onto a fire and then holding him upside down over it. Afterwards, for half a month, his eyes water and it feels like he's inhaling fire every time he breathes.
    • When his father pierces his tongue with a thorn for telling a lie, Mixtli later uses the memory as the basis for a new pictograph. He describes speech as a figure with a tongue coming out of it; flowery "tongues" depict a person singing or reciting poetry, and Mixtli's figure with a tongue pierced by a thorn shows a person lying. The pain had quite an influence on Mixtli.
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    • It goes up to eleven as Mixtli recalls her spanking Tzitzi with nettles when she was a child for dreamily murmuring "I hear drums and music playing. I wonder where they're dancing tonight." To their mother, that apparently counted as immodesty.
  • Achilles in His Tent: An interesting inversion: whenever Mixtli suffers a Heroic BSOD, he tends to leave and go wandering, rather than stay at home.
  • Anonymous Benefactor: The person who gives Mixtli the trade goods needed to start his dream of becoming a traveling merchant. He at first assumes it's Nezahualpili.
  • Anyone Can Die: If you like a character at all, be sure that they will die in an unusually cruel way.
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: During a journey, Mixtli's group all take a snakebite prevention medicine, which involves being injected with venom from a tooth of each kind of poisonous snake. The doctor who performs the procedure advises Mixtli that his bite will now be venomous; when he finds out it's not, he assumes he is not immune to snakebite.
  • Archer Archetype: Arrow Knights are noted to be given the rank of Knight in the Mexica army not for the number of kills and captures they have made, but by how well they can use the bow and arrow.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The Mexica hate the Spaniards because the latter have slaughtered countless civilians, forced an alien religion upon the Mexica people, disrespected the Mexica traditions and culture, and don't bathe.
  • Artistic License – History : Some of the events that happen in the book, notably the flood of Tenochtitlan, are changed around to suit the book's timeline.
  • Been There, Shaped History:
    • Mixtli himself, although subverted in that most of the pre-Conquest events he ends up being part of are not common knowledge to the majority of readers, but were very significant to the Mexica and other nations of the area.
    • Chimali, to Mixtli's personal life. That guy shows up EVERYWHERE.
    • Malintzin, in the last arc. The character is based upon a real-life person, La Malinche, who was blamed, in part, for selling out the Mexica and others to Cortez' conquistadors. Mixtli himself muses that in hindsight, if he'd been able to kill her at any point, things might have turned out different.
  • Big Bad: Lord Joy for the "childhood arc," Chimali during the "traveler arc," and Cortez for the "conquest arc."
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Intentionally invoked by Blood Glutton during a bandit attack.
    • Averted by Narvarez and his troops, who at first seemed like this to the Mexica but, thanks to the Foregone Conclusion, couldn't be.
    • Averted during Mixtli's "war" experience. He catches the Mixteca's biggest war hero by hiding behind a bush and cutting off the Mixteca's feet—a rather ignoble ending to a military career.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Plenty of random Nahuatl and Spanish is thrown around, although the Nahuatl is at least fairly easy to infer through context.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: On the one hand, we have the Mexica people, who have levied massive tributes from the surrounding villages, performed human sacrifices almost daily, and have made Mixtli's life a living hell on more than one occasion. On the other, we have Cortez and his troops, who have committed multiple acts of unprovoked slaughter, abused the hell out of Montecuzoma's hospitality, and show zero tolerance for any of the Mexica religious rites.
  • Break the Haughty: If ever things seem to be going a little too well for Mixtli, you can bet all the gold in Tenochtitlan that some horrible catastrophe will befall him within the next few pages.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: A large part of Mixtli's "childhood arc" is about the sexual relationship that Tzitzi instigates with him. It does not end up well for her.
  • Butt-Monkey: Mixtli's slave Cozcatl, as well as (pre-Conquest at least) Malintzin.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Beu Ribe's refusal to admit her feelings for Mixtli leads to a series of horrible misunderstandings between them for most of the second half of the book.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Malintzin. When Mixtli meets her, she is an orphan brat with delusions of grandeur. Aztec custom names the child by their day of birth (hers is One Grass) and they're given a full name on their seventh birthday, but because she's an orphan, her name remains One Grass (Ce Malinali). By the time he meets her later, she's become Cortez' interpreter and consort to one of Cortez' men. She's also made up a back story for herself: that she was formerly royalty, fallen on hard times. The "tzin" suffix (which means lord/lady and is assigned to nobility) is entirely fabricated. It also serves as a Take That! to the historical figure upon whom Malintzin is based.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Mixtli's burning crystal/monocle thing. It becomes one of his son Tenamaxtli's most prized possessions in the sequel.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Mixtli's ability to read and write the Mexica word pictures, his ease with mastering unfamiliar languages, and his artistic ability will all impact his life, for better or worse, once the Spaniards show up.
    • This also applies to Malintzin, who learns Spanish early on.
    • Discussed as one of Blood Glutton's lessons. While traveling in the jungle, it's advisable to carry a spear upright, to avoid being ambushed from above by any hunting jaguars. When he confronts Chimali, Mixtli knows he is lying in a tree, waiting to ambush him; after a few pretend jabs around trees before he goes under Chimali's tree, he uses his spear to knock Chimali from his perch.
  • Chick Magnet: Mixtli, to almost ridiculous levels. Seems to run in the family as well, if the sequels are any indication... This is common to all Jennings' main characters.
  • Cool Sword: The Mexica maquahuitl, a blade studded with sharp obsidian chunks.
  • Comically Cross-Eyed : Mixtli describes modern Mayans as having a peculiar fashion trend. They tie a board to a baby's head so it will form into a backwards slope, and dangle a trinket between the baby's eyes so it will always be looking inward and become cross-eyed. One of his lovers is such a beauty who appears to be looking with lust at him but when he gets up close, he figures she could be looking at him, the sky, or the foot because she's so cross-eyed.
  • Coming of Age Story: The first three arcs are this.
  • Consummation Counterfeit: Mentioned. It's one of the services provided by a local witch-woman. She provides a type of pigeon egg that "bleeds" when broken, which a woman may insert before her wedding night.
  • *Crack!* "Oh, My Back!": Mixtli refers to the "age of never" at one point, explaining that it's when someone gets to the age when they're constantly complaining that "X never hurt like this before!" He notes the priests' amusement and correctly deduces that the Spanish have a similar concept.
  • Country Matters: One of the earliest sentences Mixtli learns from the Spanish invaders, much to His Excellency's horror.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: It's the Aztecs, what do you expect? But a special mention goes to Mixtli himself, for his unique method of taking revenge on the priests who used his daughter as a human sacrifice.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Both sides get one: La Noche Triste for the Aztecs, and the Siege of Tenochtitlan for the Conquistadors.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Tzitzi's apparent death.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Two instances during the "childhood arc" stand out for later significance:
    • Tzitzi's aforementioned punishment for being caught masturbating and Mixtli's wondering about the metaphorical significance of what was done to her, considering how her life turned out.
    • During the boys' circle-jerk games, Mixtli notices that Chimali and Tlatli often do it to each other rather than themselves; the readers catch the significance of this long before Mixtli does, given his age at the time. The other boys also poke fun at Mixtli for his poor performance during these games, not knowing that it's due to his and Tzitzi's relationship.
  • Darker and Edgier: Unusual for a book that starts out Dark And Edgy to begin with, but by the time Cortez shows up, the book has become positively Pitch-Black And Razor-Sharp.
  • Dark Secret: The cacao-bean man and his revelation of what really happened to Tzitzi.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Mixtli, often, especially to the Spanish priests transcribing his story.
    • The old soldier Blood Glutton gets his share of snarkiness as well:
      Blood Glutton: [when Mixtli embraces him] Unhand me! Are they enlisting cuilontin now? To kiss the enemy to death?!
  • Death Seeker: It's implied that Mixtli has become this in his old age. He's seen enough of the Spanish to know how seriously they take heresy, but Mixtli barely makes any effort to pretend to be Christian, and it's clear to the reader and the bishop that Mixtli still believes in the old Aztec gods. He also believes that his main purpose was to live a full life and provide an account of it, so upon the conclusion of his narrative, he feels he has fulfilled his life's purpose. He's also eager to be reunited with his lost loved ones. Furthermore, he alludes to the fact that if the Spanish execute him on religious grounds, it will be akin to a sacrifice and he will be rewarded in the Aztec afterlife.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Both the Mexica and the Spanish hold attitudes that are strange at best and loathsome at worst by the standards of modern-day Westerners.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Jadestone Doll, a noblewoman. She is Mixtli's first exposure to lesbian sex and takes multiple lovers of both sexes... murdering them and having their flesh boiled off before their skeletons are used as the foundation for statues when she grows bored with them.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Everything Chimali does, especially after he had already "evened the score" with Mixtli.
  • The Dog Bites Back : Malintzin. She begins as a slave and ends up selling out the whole population.
  • Door Stopper: The hardcover copy weighs in at 754 pages. The paperback is just shy of 1000 pages.
  • Downer Ending: The Mexica civilisation is utterly destroyed by the Conquistadors, and Mixtli, after sharing his history with the friars and finally learning that Beu Ribe secretly loved him all along and was jealous, not angry, that he only married her younger sister and never her, even refusing to take her as a lover after his first wife died, is condemned as a heretic and sentenced to death by being burnt at the stake, despite the fact that the King of Spain himself wanted to let Mixtli live out the rest of his life unharmed.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Invoked by the priests during a ceremony to the Rain God Tlaloc, using gigantic drums.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty:
    • Blood Glutton, at least during the first arc.
    • Angry At Everybody later in the story.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Tepetzalan. After discovering the truth of what happened to Tzitzi when she was found not to be a virgin and taken away, he throws himself into the quarry where he works.
    • Tzitzi herself, who found a way to fall forward and smother on her deformed face.
    • Cozcatl, who prefers to run off to war and be impaled on a sword rather than the slower death from leprosy and heartbreak after his wife leaves him.
    • Something Delicate, after being raped by Jadestone Doll, commits suicide the second time she is summoned. No one outside the palace finds out and her husband goes out of his mind looking for her.
  • Duel to the Death:
    • Mixtli vs. Chimali.
    • Armed Scorpion, who was given the option of fighting on the Battle Stone instead of being sacrificed. It's almost an embarrassment when he calmly defeats four warriors—despite Mixtli earlier cutting off his feet.
  • Dull Surprise: Mixtli sees most of the sacrifice rituals this way. Then again, he was raised in the culture, so it's probably justified.
  • Dung Fu: During the siege of Tenochtitlan.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Blood Glutton.
    It was I, who taught you both to kill.
  • Eat the Dog: A literal example. The Mexica brought chihuahuas on their war campaigns, as a self-transporting food source that also kept snakes and pests away from the camp site.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • The smelly, dirty, hairy, hideous Spaniards, to the Mexica at least.
    • The description of Chimali's statue of Coatlicue (mother of Huitzilopochtli): she has clawed feet, a skirt made of snakes, wears a necklace of human hearts and hands, and rather than a head, two serpents' heads meet to make her face.
  • Every Scar Has a Story : The elder merchants show off their scars from travel. One lost a foot when a snake bit him and he had to whip out his maquahuitl and perform an emergency amputation; another shows a puckered scar on the top of his head where he was scalped.
  • Everything's Better with Rainbows:
    • During one of his trading ventures, Mixtli meets a crystalsmith who shows him a prism. Mixtli is mesmerized.
    • Rainbows, which Mixtli calls "the mist of the water jewels" appear behind Tzitzi after Mixtli eats a Magic Mushroom she stole from the temple.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Chimali, Malintzin, and Montecuzoma (sorta). Mention is also made of the Texcalteca, who were never conquered by the Triple Alliance and had grown up resentful of its powers. They aided the Spaniards in their conquest.
  • Fake Boobs/Fake Muscles: Discussed. Blood Glutton insists on buying slaves himself for the group's trade voyage, because some slave traders stuffed wax under the chest of male and female slaves (resulting in impressive pectorals or the appearance of breasts, although the latter melted and drooped on a hot day).
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • Tzitzi is horribly mutilated and disfigured into a barely-human thing called the Tapir Woman and placed in the Mexica equivalent of a circus freak show.
    • The Cozcatl-Chimali attack and reverse-attack, and the punishment and execution of Lord Joy and Jadestone Doll.
    • The priest who sacrifices Nochipa. See the Nightmare Fuel page for vague details.
  • Foil: To Mixtli, arguably Chimali and the other Mixtli.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • And done quite powerfully, too. From the moment Mixtli first hears about the great "winged houses" on the eastern sea, you just know all of the places and characters and cultures you've come to know and love are doomed within a few years.
    • Not to mention, Mixtli is being interviewed by Conquistador-era Spanish Christian Priests. Mixtli being sentenced as a heretic is subtly on the horizon from the start of the book, despite that the King of Spain appears to think otherwise.
  • For the Evulz: Everything Jadestone Doll does, pretty much. Also Pedro de Alvarado. Both of these examples were Truth in Television.
  • Freudian Trio: During the "travel arc," we have the three travelers: Blood Glutton (Id), Mixtli (Ego), and Cozcatl (Superego).
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot : The King of Spain eagerly asks if any of Mixtli's drawings of Jadestone Doll's dalliance with a woman have survived.
  • Gladiator Games: The elderly Nezahualpili challenges young and athletic Montecuzoma to a ball game between the two of them, with the stakes being leadership of the Triple Alliance shortly before the arrival of the Spaniards.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The Mexica priests believe this, and panic when Cortez destroys Tlaloc's shrine. Unfortunately for the Mexica, Cortez isn't speared by lightning for doing so.
  • Gold Makes Everything Shiny : Before he left on his travels, Mixtli poured the gold dust out of a number of quills and wrapped it in a thick bandage, which he wore up under his hair. When showing the contents to Zyanya, he has her unwrap it, and it reflects onto her face, lighting her up and enhancing her already stunning beauty.
  • Gold–Silver–Copper Standard : An unusual case. The standard trading currency is cacao beans rather than coins, but a certain number of cacao beans equals an amount of gold dust, which is kept in the shafts of quills. The "Silver" or middle form of currency is hatchet-shaped bits of tin and copper.
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: When Mixtli meets Zyanya and Beu Ribe, they are wearing blouses decorated with a "rich and permanent purple" dye. At that point, Mixtli explains that purple had been harvested from insects that lived on a certain crop and it could only be harvested once a year (and faded after numerous washings). Their father had gone to find out the source of the permanent purple, which led Mixtli on the same quest, to better albeit bittersweet results. Much later after Mixtli marries Zyanya he sells some of his stock to Tenochtitlan's elite, but his wife has more purple garments than even the royals.
  • Groin Attack: Chimali emasculates Cozcatl, and later gets the same treatment, with the added bonus of having his eyes cut out as well.
  • Guile Hero: Despite being repeatedly described as unusually tall, Mixtli rarely shows any capacity for physical combat and not particularly dexterous. This is in part due to his near-sightedness which, in a society that has not invented eyeglasses, renders him essentially crippled. Mixtli survives by outsmarting his opponents, talking his way out of trouble, or just avoiding fights altogether.
  • Handicapped Badass: Armed Scorpion, and then some. If he'd seen Mixtli first, Mixtli wouldn't have stood a chance.
  • Hard Head : Subverted. Mixtli is attacked by bandits and would have died, except for the padding of a pack of gold he was wearing under his hair. He still loses consciousness and spends many weeks recuperating.
  • Heaven Seeker : Mixtli explains that the best insurance for a great afterlife is to die a heroic death, on the battlefield or as a sacrifice (or in childbirth for women). Cozcatl, when he finds out he has leprosy, chooses to join the military and walks straight onto an enemy spear.
  • The Hero Dies: Goes hand-in-hand with the Foregone Conclusion.
  • The Hero's Journey: The third "arc" focuses on this.
  • Heroic BSoD: On at least two occasions.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Mixtli and Cozcatl. They actually avert the "heterosexual" part a few times, and then only because there were no women available.
  • Historical Domain Character : Many, including Cortez, King Carlos of Spain, and the Mexica rulers.
  • Hufflepuff House: Tlacopan, the third member of the Triple Alliance. Tenochtitlan and Texcoco both play important roles in the plot and are home to Mixtli at various times, but Tlacopan is just kinda there. Lampshaded near the end of the book, when Tlacopan's role as the third member of The Triple Alliance is explicitly spelled out for the readers...even though 700+ pages have already passed. It's just THAT unimportant.
  • I Found You Like This: After Mixtli is attacked by bandits during one of his Heroic BSoD wanderings, he wakes up in the care of Zyanya and Beu Ribe. He is, understandably, completely confused.
  • I Gave My Word: And we all know how much Cortez's word is worth...
  • Insistent Terminology: Mexica, not Aztec. Mixtli is also constantly stopping to remind the friars recording his story how ridiculous and utterly nonsensical the Spaniards' new names for places really are. (Example: Texcala is turned into Tlaxcala, which means tortilla. And another pretty name gets changed to Cow Horn.)
  • Ironic Echo
    Mixtli: It would be a weakness, a sullying of what we felt for each other.
  • Ironic Name: From the very first arc, we have Lord Joy, among others.
    • Mixtli brings attention to this in the conventions used to name people in the slave classes. Some examples include Gift of the Gods, and I Will Be Of Greatness.
  • Kick the Dog: Happens repeatedly to Mixtli, especially regarding his ultimate fate. See Break the Haughty above. Also, arguably done to the Mexica as a whole by the Spaniards.
  • Living Labyrinth: How the Revered Speaker of Texcoco executes his enemies during the second arc.
  • Look Behind You: As a child, Mixtli's friends often did this to him to tease him for being nearsighted.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Chimali and Tlatli are gay lovers, but Tlatli gets involved in Jadestone Doll's murderous way of covering up her affairs. When her infidelity/blasphemy/serial murders come out, Tlatli is executed for knowingly being involved. Chimali promptly vows revenge on Mixtli for not intervening to save Tlatli, and sets out to make his life hell however he can. Disguised as a travelling priest, he midwifes the birth of Mixtli's first child (on Beu Ribe and Zyanya's mother) and deliberately drags things out so that mother and child both die. He ambushes and castrates Mixtli's servant boy Cozcatl because he is Mixtli's friend and Chimali assumes Cozcatl is Mixtli's sexual partner. Then, even after Mixtli has blinded and muted Chimali for this, he gets caught in a flood and the kind-hearted Zyanya tries to save him, resulting in her being crushed to death and leaving Mixtli a widower with an orphaned daughter.
  • Lucky Seven: The book can be divided up into seven clear "arcs:" Mixtli's childhood, his work for Jadestone Doll, the trading journeys south, his married life with Zyanya, his post-marriage life in Tenochtitlan, the arrival of the Spaniards, and his old age post-Conquest.
  • Mad Oracle: The cacao-bean man.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Did Mixtli really meet the gods Night Wind and Oldest of Old Gods? Who knows?
  • Mayincatec: Averted. The Incas (correctly) don't appear at all and are mentioned by the Spaniards only once, the Mexica are a distinct culture that is the focus of the novel, and Mixtli visits the clearly different Maya people on at least two occasions.
  • Meaningful Name: Names are very important to the Mexica, so often Mixtli will pause his story to reflect on how well a newly introduced character's name ended up fitting their actions. Some examples: Blood Glutton is a hardened warrior; Beu Ribe means Waiting Moon (she dies a virgin and reflects on her name at one point); Tzitzitlini's name means The Sound of Small Bells Ringing. Mixtli's own name (Dark Cloud) is meaningful in that he brings "stormy" consequences and luck to most people he loves. A subversion also happens with the slaves, who are given very lofty names that belie their station (such as Gift of the Gods and Cozcatl, whose name means Jeweled Collar).
  • Monumental Battle: La Noche Triste and The Siege Of Mexico Tenochtitlan, both taking place in the biggest city in the world at that time.
  • Monumental Damage: The Spaniards smashing the great Templo Mayor during the final siege of the city, which was Truth in Television. Visitors to Mexico City today can see the foundations.
  • Moral Myopia: Displayed by both the Christian monks who are recording Mixtli's story and Mixtli himself. In the former, there are plentiful examples, such as the priests being disgusted by many acts that Mixtli references but not even batting an eye at the atrocities committed against the Mexica by the Spainards, or their dismissal of the plagues that they have brought to the vulnerable Americas as simply "God's work". Mixtli's most prominent act is the fact that, while he waves off anything "wrong" with a Human Sacrifice he mentions early in the books, he goes berserk and kills the priests responsible when his own daughter is taken as a sacrifice, though this may be justified since the priests never asked permission before performing the sacrifice in question.
  • Most Writers Are Writers : Mixtli is a scribe.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: About 99% of the time Nahuatl words are used in the book, you can bet they're describing some sort of obscene sexual term. Averted later on, when Mixtli mentions that the first words he hears of Spanish was an extremely vulgar sentence...given to us in plain English!
  • Nemean Skinning: One episode cocerns Mixtli and his trading expedition fighting and killing a jaguar. The animal is skinned with the intention of having the skin tanned and preserved when they reach a town; a slave is detailed to wear the uncured skin. Unfortunately for the slave it takes several days to reach a town where the skin could be cured and tanned; Mixtli drily notes that by then, it has rotted under the Mexican sun and everybody is trying not to stand too close to the hapless slave.
  • Never Found the Body: Tzitzi and Zyanya, the latter of whom disappears during the flood of Tenochtitlan. However, despite the usual usage of this trope, Zyanya is Killed Off for Real.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Kindhearted Zyanya tries to save a blind, mute beggar during the flooding of Tenchtitlan, only to be swept away and crushed to death trying. Making things worse, the beggar, who dies himself, is Mixtli's old enemy Chimali, who had earlier killed Zyanya's mother and her newborn half-brother on purpose, and so manages to get the last laugh by killing Mixtli's beloved wife, even if he dies in the process.
  • Not Me This Time: A humorous example: Mixtli has by this point become so well-known for his sexual exploits that when the Bishop returns to hear the next part of his tale, Mixtli remarks:
    Mixtli: Dare I suppose that Your Excellency joins us today expecting to hear how I ravished the entire female population of Zaachila? No? If, as you say, it would not surprise you to hear it, then let me really surprise Your Excellency. I did not once touch a woman there.
  • Omniglot: Mixtli's many travels made him one.
  • Palm Bloodletting : Chimali "signs" his artworks by slapping his hand onto a wooden plank with tiny chips of obsidian glued onto it, and then putting his bloody handprint onto the image.
  • Papa Wolf: Mixtli, although sadly he's too late to do any good.
  • Parting-Words Regret: Mixtli, when reminiscing about Zyanya's last words to him before she dies in the flood of Tenochtitlan, dragged under by Chimali. Her words are carried away by the storm and he never got to hear what she had to say.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Mixtli giving Cozcatl his freedom.
    • When Blood Glutton, previously a Drill Sergeant Nasty, comes to their aid during the journey south.
    • When Beu Ribe finally reveals her feelings to Mixtli after decades of bitter fighting. He takes what's left of her hand and says "My dear, I love you too."
  • Preserve Your Gays:
    • While the Mexica themselves hold homosexuals in contempt (considering them "unmanly"), the fact that Chimali and Tlatli are gay ends up having significant impacts on the plot.
    • Also important in the sequel.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Everything the cacao-bean man tells Mixtli on his first visit to Tenochtitlan.
  • Religious Horror: In-Universe, this is part of the reason why Jadestone Doll's crimes are so reprehensible. Make no mistake, the fact she's cuckolding her princely husband and then murdering the men and women she's sleeping with when she grows bored with them is bad enough, but the fact that she then has the audacity to hide the bodies by having the flesh boiled off of them and the skeletons used as the basis for statues which she then claims are depictions of assorted gods adds unspeakable blasphemy to her crimes.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge:
    • Mixtli himself on at least two occasions.
    • Chimali for about two-thirds of the book.
  • Romantic False Lead: Tzitzi.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Every single Mexicatl from the nobility must be this. Even commoners who provide outstanding services to the empire can earn a noble rank, typically through prowess in war. Mixtli eventually becomes one.
  • Shown Their Work: And how! Practically everything except Mixtli himself has some basis in Mexica history. (Yes, even Jadestone Doll's..."dalliances.") Not to mention every bit of Nahuatl, Mexica culture, warfare, government...heck, it would probably be easier to list everything that isn't. The author spent over 10 years meticulously researching the novel, and did a great deal of "experiential" research by traveling throughout Mexico.
  • Squick: Mixtli's narration notes when the priests are horrified and/or grossed out by the violent or sexual parts of his story. At one point, one of his peccadilloes causes a priest to completely lose his composure and run out of the room.
  • Starbucks Skin Scale: Late in the book, Mixtli describes the son of Malinche and Cortez as watered-down cacao.
  • Stealth Insult: Mixtli sneaks a good many into his narration toward the Spanish and the priests.
  • Stealth Pun: Plenty of them, in both Nahuatl and Spanish.
  • Take That!: At medieval Catholicism, European imperialism, the supposed superiority of Western culture, and stereotypes of Native Americans, among others.
  • Too Dumbto Live: Montecuzoma, although this was Truth in Television. Also, any of the nations that chose to ally with Cortez.
  • Trolling Translator : Malinche, although in a rare case where it's not Played for Laughs and brings down the Mexica.
  • Tsundere: Beu Ribe.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Mixtli.
  • Unseen Evil : The Yaqui (spelled "Yaki" in the novel) are a fierce tribe that live somewhere in the mountains to the North of Mixtli's trade routes. They're never seen although they are shown to commit at least one massacre and a couple of scalpings through the course of the story. Their reputation for independence, self-reliance, and aggression appears to be somewhat Truth in Television, as they were able to hold off the Spanish Conquistadors longer than many groups in the same period.
  • We Can Rule Together: Cortez makes this offer to the Tlaxcala. He's lying.

Aztec Autumn provides examples of:

  • Distracted by the Sexy: Tenamaxtli spends quite a long time at the Islands of the Women, and only returns to the One World to continue his fight against the Mexica when a woman's death reminds him of his original quest.
  • Does Not Like Men: Tiptoe, after she is raped by two Spanish soldiers.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Happens on more than one occasion.
  • Enemy Mine: Tenamaxtli uses this to his advantage in order to get all of the previously warring Yaki tribes to fight together against the Spaniards.
  • Expy: Tenamaxtli might as well be a carbon copy of Mixtli from the original, though there's a good reason for that. His cousin Ameyatl plays a similar role to Tzitzi, Cricket might as well be an expy of Zyanya, and Yeyac is one of Chimali, among many others.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Even moreso than the original. Tenamaxtli getting the monocle and burning crystal: arranged by the gods or mere coincidence? Tiptoe's "pregnancy:" was it really some kind of monster or just a normal child? Was Gn'da Ke really an ancient, nigh-immortal woman or just a Yaki who shared the name and intentions? (Her bizarre death doesn't help this one at all). And Yeyac's sudden recovery, even with the ordinary explanation, still seems too convenient...
  • Old Soldier: For someone who considers himself "a bag of wind and bones," Blood Glutton certainly qualifies. There's a memorable scene early in the story where he realizes a band of "travelers" are actually bandits and singlehandedly sneaks up on and decapitates the ones waiting to ambush Mixtli and party, all without alerting any of the other bandits until it's just the bait-ones left alive. He then presents the surviving bandits with the heads of their comrades and demands they eat them. They're so terrified, they listen.
    Blood Glutton: I said EAT!
  • Red Herring: For all the setup and characterization Uno and Dos are given, they appear in the book for all of about five seconds despite all of the potential they showed. Which is too bad, because they are very interesting and entertaining characters.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Pretty much the entire point of the novel.
  • Those Two Guys: The British sailors Tenamaxtli nicknames Uno and Dos are this, for the (sadly) brief time they appear.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Tiptoe's "pregnancy" is never explained in full, and we never learn what it was she carried inside her.
    • Also, the fate of Mixtli's mother after she flees Xaltócan in the Aztec.
  • You Killed My Father: Tenamaxtli learns that the Mixtli of the first novel was his father early on, which spurs him into a hatred of Spaniards for the rest of the book.

Here end the roads and the days.