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Inca Paperback – December 29, 2012
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The protagonist isn't a mighty warrior or prince, but a master accountant. His purpose in life is not self-aggrandizement or glory, but simply to run an empire so that its inhabitants can live prosperous and decent lives. I was charmed by the portrayal of "writing" with knots and strings, and of a great 'quipu house' full of yarn and counting stones. The description of the Incas' meticulous record-keeping boggles the mind. Their society wasn't exactly democratic, but somehow, during their heyday, they did manage to do better by the people of Peru than anyone since.
Narrator Haylli has misadventures with schoolmates, and later with plotting backstabbers. But it is only about 2/3 of the way through the book when the real trouble starts. A series of ever more horrific disasters befalls the narrator and his people: plague, devastating civil war, and finally the Spanish invasion. (To imagine what this must have been like, think of an invasion from space.) So no, there is no way it could end happily. Nevertheless, this story is so vivid and well-written that I could not put it down. The author says he plans to write more stories about the Incas, and I sure hope he does. Sign me up!
In popular knowledge and culture, the Inca are underrepresented for some reason. Most people probably picture them as being mostly similar to the more popular Aztec - at least I know I did before reading this novel. But in reality, with one of the world's biggest mountain ranges between them, the Inca and Aztec people had very little in common. The Incan empire was one of the greatest of its time, and learning more about it - from its solid gold gardens to its deadly obsidian labyrinth - was consistently fascinating. The broadest and most interesting fact conveyed by the novel defies one of the few pieces of common wisdom about the Inca, which is that the invading Spanish were the sole authors of their destruction. In truth, as the novel reveals, the empire's strength had been waning for some time, and violent internal discord was beginning to break it up before the first white man ever reached their shores. Accordingly, the bulk of the novel takes place before the Spanish arrive, and shows us that their invasion was only the last in a string of catastrophes.
We see all this through the eyes of Haylli Yupanki, whom we meet when he still bears his child name, Waccha. The novel takes us from his upbringing and his coming of age through to his elder years as one of the most quietly influential men in a dying empire. Haylli is deeply inspired by his father, and driven also by a fierce sense of passion and competition. His nemesis, the warrior-prodigy Chalcucima, motivates him to distinguish himself in unique ways by using his natural intelligence and cunning, and Haylli fights Chalcucima in many battles both friendly and unfriendly. It is nearly impossible to provide a summary of Inca's storyline and cast of characters, spanning decades and generations as they do, but that is for the best: the joy of the story comes from living with Haylli, sharing the surprise of new encounters and the memories of old ones, and watching the evolution of relationships that last a lifetime. There is much change to be witnessed, for Haylli is the kind of person who grows from an unsure boy into a man who (I won't tell you how or why) pushes his all-powerful emperor out of a window.
The amount of research that went into Inca is staggering. In conveying all that knowledge, Micks strikes the perfect balance: staying committed to accuracy without getting bogged down in details or feeling like a textbook. The story is well-paced and never boring, and at times it pleasantly diverts into intriguing locations like the Chaski messenger school, where trainees climb a mountain with whips at their back. The challenge is in the complexity of a story with such an epic scale: there are many characters, relationships and locations at play, and keeping everything straight can at times seem daunting. Luckily, a thorough glossary and a notated map are included, and they make it easy to get back on track if you ever get lost.
Inca is a terrific novel. Work of this calibre is rare in independent fiction, and indeed even any undertakings of this magnitude are hard to find. In Inca, Micks does more than tell a good story: he captures the flavour of an entire way of life, offers knowledge about a remarkable part of history, and shares something mysterious and exotic while making it relatable and real.
Micks has done a masterful job of characterization and I had no trouble identifying with the protagonist. Likewise, his descriptions of Inca life and cities are bang on. His research has been impeccable, drawing - I believe - liberally from the main resource entitled The Royal Commentaries of the Incas by Garcilaso de la Vega.
I enjoyed his approach of relating the story as if it were being told to a Spanish priest, exactly as the original stories had been done in Vega's commentaries. It covered the transitional historical period from immediately before the Spanish conquest to just after.
A wonderful tale, hard to put down. I highly recommend it.
Well written and researched, I would imagine by this very good writer.
Sad, and hard to take, at times also very violent.
They also caused suffering to themselves and others.
All and all, a good read. This would make a great movie!
I love all of Gary Jennings' work, so I was excited to see a fresh new author in this same path.
'Inca' is a first person narrative of the last days of the Inca empire. The historical backdrop is rich enough to paint a clear picture of what life was like then and there and the story flows well.
Looking forward to more novels!