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the Incas by Daniel Peters

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

the Incas by Daniel Peters

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon August 25th, 2008, 7:11 pm

The Incas by Daniel Peters

As a llama packer/breeder/trainer I have had this book on the radar for years. Not that it is current (published 1991, at what EC calls the bottom of the HF market) but because there aren’t very many novels to choose from that deal with the Inca civilization. Since it was over a thousand pages and the author described himself as ‘married to a feminist writer’ I put it off, figuring that it was likely to be a strange brew of half-history and wishful thinking. I could not see any society less amenable to feminist ideology than the militant, ultra-disciplined, super-regulated Inca Empire. On the other hand, everybody likes to read about things they know well. So when I found a copy at a library sale, I started it with a mixture of dread and anticipation.

To my relief, it was a rewarding read. Comparing the work to more generally known ones, it reminded me of Cecelia Holland’s ‘Great Maria’ in that it was a long-term view of the relationship between a couple covering momentous events in their lives over a long period of turbulent history. Also in the leisurely pace and the attention to a minutiae of daily detail. It would be a good book to bring on a long trip, where you didn’t want to get so sucked into the novel as to not enjoy other things, but long enough that you wouldn’t run out of reading matter.

There were the expected anachronisms, mostly the common one of including romantic elements that would have been impossible in that time and culture. The Incas were a young civilization in a demanding physical climate, and like most peoples in those circumstances, their sexual restrictions were exacting. The punishment for any activity outside the bounds of marriage was severe flogging (in cases where the couple could be married) to death, by various more or less painful means according to who screwed whom under how forbidden a circumstance. Our hero was involved with an Inca princess (rolls eyes) but fortunately for my suspension of disbelief, shortly fell in love with and married a Chachapoya chief’s daughter, with yet more anachronistic premarital relations.

But for the rest, the hero and heroine were engaging people, fairly well-rounded. Cusi is an undersized youth whose father dislikes him but who compensates by earning friends among his classmates (initiation brothers) who will be in and out throughout the story. Micay is a young woman forcefully yanked from her own culture and made to learn the roles of another, who chooses to adapt rather than sulk and is assigned as a companion to Cusi’s sister. I did appreciate that these characters do not exist in a vacuum, but each have a web of relationships that are accommodated in the plot throughout. This is also very true to the Inca culture (and most subsistence-based cultures) where who you are related to dictates the choices available.

The novel alternates between the adventures of Cusi and Micay as Cusi earns respect for his prowess and cunning as a warrior and diplomat and Micay finds her place as a healer and follower of a regional high priestess. Both must inevitably choose sides in the intrigues of the Inca’s court, mainly stemming from the problems of their relatives and associates. The book includes strong spiritual elements which is quite appropriate to the culture; the Incas, like the Romans and Greeks, were constantly aware of signs and portents and based many of their decisions on them. Peters even resisted the common current plot device of inserting a ‘closet unbeliever’ to pander to modern-day views. He doesn’t do so well on the medical front, though. When smallpox arrives, Micay is ‘guided’ by dreams and spirits to adopt a incredible number of modern-day medical practices to prevent infection, including cutting off hair, oiling the skin, and even (!) wearing gauze masks.

For the rest, the details were very nice. I already knew many of them, and by and large Peters had done his homework, even if a lot of bits from the Aztec and Maya civilizations wandered south. He did include a homosexual relationship in a family member. It was presented as a problem for everybody, which is an understatement: by Inca law, such practices would not only incur the death sentence, but the entire village was to be burned as well. But other than that, it did reflect reality – though conveniently glossing over the pedophilia aspect usual in such situations. I figure it was mostly a nod to the twilight of the Mochica civilization and their rather explicit pottery, which has been the center of many recent discoveries. Never mind that the Mochicas were about as close to the Incas as the Ancient Greeks were to the Tudors.

Parents beware: some of the sexual scenes are explicit, although not overly so by modern standards, and only between the protagonist couple. Of more concern is the large array of drug use and drinking, which is rather overdone for the society. Alcohol was a feast day treat, although it is true that drunkenness was the usual result. The Incas were binge drinkers. Coca use was much more strictly controlled than Peters presents it, since there is a downside that goes beyond dark green teeth. Only among slaves working in the mines (a death sentence) was coca used freely. And as to all the other hallucinogens Cusi samples going in and out of his spirit world – they were used very sparingly, and many are lethal in small doses. These plot elements could give the wrong idea to impressionable minds.

Peters scrambled up the politics of that last three Incas and their generals to fit his story, but it wasn’t too far off, and anyway, who else is going to know? It did keep his characters hopping, and in exchange for an entertaining read on the Inca’s, this reader will forgive him a few switcheroos.

So I’ll give it four stars.

And now, the llama-breeder’s rant (which nobody but Spitfire would care about, but here goes):
Obviously Mr. Peters knew that llamas were an integral part of the Inca civilization. So of course he worked llamas in wherever he could. But Mr. Peters knew only one thing about llamas: they spit. So he had them spitting almost every time they came on the scene. It was absolutely crazy-making for me, a 4-H leader who has spent thirty years showing up with llamas in public places and saying, over and over and over, “No, it won’t spit at you. Llamas mostly spit at other llamas. They don’t even do that very often, and it is always for distinct and predictable reasons.”

As for the rest, he substituted what he might have heard/read/known about SHEEP! He had them bleating (llamas make almost no noise, but when they do, it is a hum audible for less than six feet away); he had them stinking (llamas have only a light odor that smells like corn chips) and their handlers stinking of them; he constantly mentioned their greasy wool (llamas have no lanolin like sheep, a problem for electric shears). There was the incident of the animal licking something – lamas use their split lip to manipulate food, their tongue is very short, so they don’t lick. He had them raised in the jungle area of Tumbez; llamas would die of heatstroke there --the Inca actually had laws regarding taking them back to high ground after only one night in the lowlands. And in one really wrong plot twist, he had dishonest herders separate out all the twins to enrich themselves and report only single births. The big laugh here is that llamas twin so rarely that in the Inca empire such an occurrence was seen as prophetic, and it would have been reported to the governor, if not to the Inca himself.

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Margaret
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Favorite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
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Postby Margaret » Mon August 25th, 2008, 7:49 pm

Thank you for the llama breeder's rant. I find it appalling when historical fiction writers don't do their research at this basic a level.
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Chris Little
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Daniel Peters

Postby Chris Little » Thu February 18th, 2010, 6:11 am

wrote three "Pre-Columbian" tales, and I'm curious if any of you have tried his "Tikal" and "Huemac" novels in addition to "Incas" ??

Enjoying the culture and characters of the "Incas" and having had limited success in finding captivating books about Mexico,* I expect to try another Peters soon, one with a Mexican setting, though the HC prices are mildly intimidating.

As noted above, there are a few factual mistakes in "Incas" but I haven't found them distracting, just bemusing. Overall, Peters must have done an immense amount of research and I believe his small percent of "oops" acceptable in such an immense "Michener" scale story.

Having recently read some NF about the Incas,** (and having had a good friend who raised llamas, where I harvested excellent manure from their conveniently deposited piles of poop), I'm finding the anthropology Peters depicts to be quite intriguing. The "Tierra Templada" of the Andes is a lush growing area and the many tribes conquered by the Incas were able to store great reserves of food in what could be called government food warehouses.
Some Inca/Egyptian ruling-class commonalities are brother/sister marriage and mummies. The Incas carried their past leaders around. Imagine hauling Abraham Lincoln's mummy on a littler so he could be present at high level events.

I'm impressed with the equal time given to both the male and female character regarding the story's development. She is a "chosen woman" from a light-skin-colored tribe prized by the Inca who are a small minority of the Andean population. His name translates to "Joyful Hawk" and he is a warrior/scout before becoming lord of the Eastern Quarter of the empire under Atauhallpa, a name which translates to "Royal and Victorious Turkey Cock."

Perhaps Peter's wife positively influenced his writing with her feminism. Here's a sample quote: "If you marry an Inca or an Inca by privilege, you might have to follow your husband to many places, perhaps to places where you would be the only Incas. You must be complete within yourself if you hope to bear the strain and confusion of that."

(*I don't like the gore of Gary Jennings, and Clare Bell's "Jaguar Princess" is the only Mexico setting novel I'd read again. **My daughter attended university in Quito.)

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Thu February 18th, 2010, 6:12 pm

Thanks for your comments, Chris. Peters' novels have been at the back of my mind for a long time, but I've never become motivated enough to track them down, so good to get a reminder. I enjoyed "Jaguar Princess" as well- a magical book.

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parthianbow
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Postby parthianbow » Thu February 18th, 2010, 6:31 pm

"MLE" wrote: And now, the llama-breeder’s rant (which nobody but Spitfire would care about, but here goes)

:D :D :D Boy, did I laugh at your comments, MLE! So funny and I also care! I'm totally on your side. As a veterinarian, I find it infuriating when authors make enormous gaffes about things to do with animals. Two memorable ones which I've read in Roman novels include a soldier stepping out into the path of a charging war horse and whacking it on the head with his gladius, thereby fracturing its skull and killing it stone dead. Now for those of you who bother to look into it, a horse's skull is more than 6 inches thick in places and all his sword blow would have done is broken the skin. Nevermind the fact that the horse would have ridden him down, killing him instead. :eek:

There was also an instance of some Roman soldiers eating raw wild boar, which would have killed them, thanks to the lovely worm called Trichinella, which is also present in polar bears and grizzly bears and was a common cause of the death of 19th-century hunters and explorers who ate such meat.

Which reminds me of the film City Slickers, with Billy Crystal. Which is going off topic but I'm on a roll here. :p Whatever you may have thought of that movie, good or bad, it was ruined for me by Crystal's so-called delivery of a calf by sitting down with his legs in front of them and putting both arms inside the cow! :eek: It was a breech delivery, which means that only the tail was sticking out, and the way to deal with that is to lie down (if the cow was lying) and place one arm inside, which is all that fits properly anyway, and pull out the legs one by one. I actually shouted at the cinema screen, embarrassing my girlfriend of the time highly.

Here endeth my mini-rant! :D

P.S. Thanks for the good review, I will put the book on my TBR list! Having spent more than a year travelling in South America, I'm rather fond of both the Incas and llamas.

P.P.S. I've never had to treat a llama, but I have had one spit at me! It was near Cuzco, in Peru, and confirmed my stereotypical view of them. I now know that I must have been darn unlucky!
Last edited by parthianbow on Thu February 18th, 2010, 6:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Ben Kane
Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.
Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri February 19th, 2010, 6:57 am

LOL, Ben, the warhorse thing is a hoot! Also having dealt with a dystocia (no vet anywhere around, I had to deliver a transverse presentation myself or let the female die, so in went the arm) I think I'll skip City Slickers.

Regarding the animal who spit at you, you probably weren't unlucky, that llama probably spit at everybody who came close enough. We call such mis-imprinted males 'berserkers' in the industry, they are hand-raised males (hand-raised females usually don't get so aggressive, but they will spit at humans) and unfortunately, zoos and touristy places tend to be where they are found. Too much human interaction during the herd-imprinting period. I have read that the reason dairy bulls are so much more dangerous than meat-breed bulls is because they are not raised by mama cow, hence their socialization is all screwed up.

In their most extreme form, berserker male llamas are quite dangerous, as they want to breed women and fight with men.

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parthianbow
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Postby parthianbow » Fri February 19th, 2010, 9:54 am

"MLE" wrote:In their most extreme form, berserker male llamas are quite dangerous, as they want to breed women and fight with men.


Yikes! Like many uncastrated dominant Jack Russell Terriers (and other breeds) then.
Ben Kane

Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.

Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.



http://www.benkane.net

Twitter: @benkaneauthor

Chris Little
Reader
Location: Going back in Time

Postby Chris Little » Fri February 19th, 2010, 5:19 pm

Caveat about Daniel Peters "The Incas". It is too long to rate 5-stars and would have been better at half its length. Rather like taking a 2-week vacation to somewhere that could be explored well in 1-week. For someone intending to learn about Incas and the historic Andean cultures, I suggest Kim McQuarrie's "Last of the Incas" as the more memorable book.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat February 20th, 2010, 4:50 am

"Chris Little" wrote:Caveat about Daniel Peters "The Incas". It is too long to rate 5-stars and would have been better at half its length. Rather like taking a 2-week vacation to somewhere that could be explored well in 1-week. For someone intending to learn about Incas and the historic Andean cultures, I suggest Kim McQuarrie's "Last of the Incas" as the more memorable book.


I found it too long as well, Chris. Although apparently a large chunk had already been edited out -- in the last quarter, there were constant references to an event that was not included in the text. Methinks they were inadvertently left in when that bit was taken out...
The McQuarrie book (which I have not read) should not be confused with the text of the same title by Edward Hyams and George Ordish, which looks at the Inca Empire through very rose-tinted glasses.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Sat February 20th, 2010, 4:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Misfit
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Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Sat February 20th, 2010, 1:44 pm

"Margaret" wrote:Thank you for the llama breeder's rant. I find it appalling when historical fiction writers don't do their research at this basic a level.


LOL! I'm late to this party and also had a great chuckle reading these animal stories. OT as well but it reminded me of Sleepless in Seattle. You have to know the territory but to believe he rowed from his houseboat on the East side of Lake Union through the Locks (that takes a while mind you) and all the way across the damn bay to get to the beach at Alki is worthy of an Iron Man competition.
At home with a good book and the cat...
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