Book Talk: Swept away by epic tales

Get over the winter blues with these books by Gary Jennings, Madeleine Thien and Patrick Rothfuss.

An epic tale with the narrative power to sweep you away, from the first page to last, is a terrific way to beat the winter blues.

Aztec (1980) by Gary Jennings is a dazzling and mesmerizing historical novel that chronicles the extraordinary story of the last and greatest native civilization of North America.

This grand, sprawling tale is told in the words of Mixtl-Dark Cloud, one of the most robust and unforgettable characters in modern fiction.

Although he falls on evil times in the wake of the conquest of The One World, now the country of Mexico, he rose from humble beginnings to become a warrior, a scribe, an interpreter, an explorer, a wealthy merchant and sometime adviser to Montecuzoma II. He is shrewd, funny, courageous, without a vestige of hypocrisy and his tonali, or fate, is to see and speak the truth , no matter how much it pains other.

Mixli is also a marvellous storyteller and his story is the story of the Aztecs themselves, from the feather-banner capital of Tenochtitlan to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and their destruction of the Aztec empire.

Do Not Say We have Nothing (2016), the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize by Madeleine Thien, is a breathtaking novel that is capacious and hauntingly intimate at the same time.

At the centre of this epic tale is Sparrow, an enigmatic musical genius who wishes desperately to create music yet can only find truth in silence. His mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, are survivors with engaging singing voices and an unbreakable bond.

Sparrow’s ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl, who as a child sees the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciation herself; and impetuous, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self.

And there is also Kai’s daughter, Marine, an inquisitive mathematician who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver and finds a delicate meaning in the collective story of her family.

The Name of the Wind (2009) is a remarkable fantasy saga by Patrick Rothfuss that shares much in common with Aztec. The narrative structure is similar and Kvothe, like Aztec’s protagonist Mixtl, is the hero and villain of a thousand tales. He’s presumed dead and lives as the simple innkeeper under an assumed name. But one day a biographer known as the Chronicler realizes his true identity and Kvothe begins to tell his story.

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

“You may have heard of me.”

So begins an extraordinary tale of sorrow, survival and one man’s relentless search for meaning in this universe and the indomitable will that drove the search and created a legend in the process.

These three titles, and many more great epics, are available through your Okanagan Regional Library

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