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Literature / Lord of the Night Sky

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The Mexica-Aztec, The People of the Sun, lived under a terrible burden. Their role in the cosmos was to nurture the gods through human sacrifice. If they failed in their task, the gods would perish and the world would be laid to waste. You can deal with terrorists who are bargaining for money or political leverage. How do you reason with people who kill because they believe they are saving the world?

Ted Young is an archaeology professor at the turn of the millennium, and unlike Indiana Jones the job actually means what it says. He's not really prepared for the DEA to send him to Mexico City, to find out whether a former colleague has been smuggling artifacts for drug smugglers. He is completely unprepared for the hornets nest he winds up stumbling into. Within a day of his arrival, he has stumbled onto the Smoking Mirrors, a vicious gang of drug dealers that have revived the ancient Aztec religion. And they want him dead. Rescued by Colonel Crane, a secret agent with a mysterious agenda, he flees for his life. But just as he reaches the safety of the United States, he learns why the Smoking Mirrors were so desperate to kill him. The Aztec gods require blood sacrifice. And the evidence he recovered from their temple is radioactive.


Enough Tropes to Rip Your Heart Out:

  • Attending Your Own Funeral: Symbolically. To help Ted get used to the fact that his old life is over, Crane's team throw him a funeral party. To drive the point home, several people talking to Ted about his situation through the book refer to their current "officially dead" status as an afterlife.
  • Badass Crew: Crane has one on call.
  • Batman Gambit: Several. Crane is dismissive of Ted explaining his revelation of what the Smoking Mirrors want in order to draw out details, and tapes it because Ted being exasperated in the face of opposition will make the analysts he forwards the theory too take it more seriously. The nuclear weapon is one as well, it's not the primary threat. The plan is to make everyone flee the city when they see the mushroom cloud. Then, when everyone is trapped on the highway, the smoking mirrors will release Anthrax.
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  • Cassandra Truth: Played with. Crane doesn't seem to believe Ted when he explains his revelation about the Smoking Mirror's motivation. In fact he's taping the entire conversation, using his skepticism to draw out details and make the presentation convincing, and immediately forwards it to CIA analysts.
  • Chef of Iron: Maria, Crane's wife. She's with them on their missions, and she cooks an amazing chili.
  • Clear Their Name: Ted originally heads down to Mexico to clear his old friend Carlos of charges that he's smuggling artifacts for Mexican drug smugglers. It turns out he's guilty as hell, except he's doing it for cops instead of drug smugglers.
  • Crazy Awesome: Crane. The guy is a complete madman, but he knows what he's about backwards and forwards.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ted, once he's calmed down enough.
  • Death Faked for You: Crane does this for Ted to get the numerous enemies he's made off his back. Unusually, this is actually done semi-officially in a process akin to witness protection.
  • Dirty Cop: Carlos is working with them, fencing seized artifacts through his position at the national museum. The Federal Police aren't much better, except they're involved in Dirty Business rather than direct corruption.
  • Dirty Business: The Mexican Federal Police ted and Carlos run into are deeply involved, seeing their job as to kill as many evil bastards as possible.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entire plot takes place over a few frantic days. As Ted puts it, "Another hour, another state."
  • Fire-Breathing Diner: The team eats a chili dinner cooked by Maria while doing research. It's described as 'earwax melting'.
  • Interservice Rivalry: This nearly winds up scuttling the investigation, especially since the representative of the other service has a personal grudge against Crane.
  • It Belongs in a Museum: Inverted, kindof. Ted has strong views about cultural appropriation, and believes that native artifacts should be returned on request. That said, he also thinks that research are both good reasons for a museum IF you have permission.
  • Lady of War: Maria. She's a Colonel, can kick the ass of anyone you care to name, and can do it while being entirely composed.
  • Mayincatec: Averted, the book is clear on the difference between the various cultures. Maria is implied follow one of the other traditional religions, and compares a resurgence of the Aztecs to the return of the inquisition.
  • Mistaken for Badass: Ted, who can't believe his bad luck. Crane spells out for him that the circumstances surrounding him make look, to someone who doesn't know better, like a highly trained deep cover agent.
  • Non-Action Guy: Ted, very much. He's a professor, and doesn't even know how to shoot a gun.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Justified. Unless you are an actor, large changes in appearance tend to stand out more, especially to a trained observer. Instead, Crane just changes enough details to throw off a police profile.
  • Rare Guns: Several, discussed at length at least once. Crane explains that he carries a Luger for undercover work not because it's a better gun, but because it works well enough and it has no traceable history. It's also not a standard issue gun for American special forces, which he compares to spray painting his name everywhere he goes.
  • Religion of Evil: Discussed regarding the Aztec religion. Rather than being presented as evil for the sake of it, the religion is explained as a strategy akin to a protection racket. It allowed them to demonstrate their ferocity in theater rather than battle, and the best sacrifices were enemies making it very expedient to pay tribute and become a friend. And the religious purpose of the sacrifices was to preserve the world, rather than for more selfish reasons.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Odd example with Crane's team. They do in fact spend most of the book doing their job, and doing it well, but the heavy firepower they bring never actually gets used.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Crane tends to start these to get Ted's mind off of the insane circumstances. The first one is about breeding Armadillos that don't jump.
  • Shown Their Work: Everywhere, from spycraft to archaeology to nuclear weapons.
  • Spy Fiction: Stale Beer and Bathtub Gin flavored, served in a martini glass. Modern Aztecs using a nuclear weapon for a mass sacrifice is a plot straight out of James Bond, but the novel takes a gritty and realistic approach to the tradecraft and logistics involved. And Ted Young, while perfectly competent in his area of expertise, is most definitely a civilian.
  • Suicide Mission: On hearing the setup for how the DEA sent Ted to Mexico (no training beyond information on how to check in and using a codebook) Crane realizes that he was considered an expendable asset. No one bothered to inform him of this when he agreed.
  • The Alleged Car: Played with. Carlos owns an awful, ancient lemon yellow car. It's to cover up how much money he's making via smuggling, he also owns a fancy grey Mercedes. Crane owns a beat up looking Golf GTI. The only thing beaten up is the paint. Underneath it's heavily souped up, has built in body armor, hooks so it can be anchored on a cargo plane, and a high end radiation detector.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: By the end of the book Ted has disrupted the plans of a very nasty cult, contributed to the seizure of more than a billion dollars in drugs by the DEA, is wanted by the Mexican federal police for connection to several of their men being murdered, and is wanted by the DEA for drug possession. To say that there are people who want to make his life short and miserable is an understatement.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Smoking Mirror cult, which plans to kill millions so that their gods don't starve to death and end the world.
  • Women Are Wiser: According to Crane, he needs Maria to "keep him civilized". She also gives Ted good advice several times.

Example of: