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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In the Courts of the Sun by Brian D'Amato (reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Brian D'Amato Website
Read the first three chapters as page images
Order “In the Courts of the Sun

INTRODUCTION: When I heard about In the Courts of the Sun which was announced as thriller involving Maya prophecies and the end of the world in 2012 when the known Maya calendar stops, I was intrigued by the cover and the references to the action taking places partially in the heyday of Maya civilization. So I got the book and the first page just hooked me, and I could not read anything else until I finished it.

OVERVIEW: In the Courts of the Sun is the first volume of the Sacrifice Game trilogy. It contains two major threads that are linked by the aforementioned Maya Game, one taking place in the near future of 2010-2012, one taking place in the heyday of the Maya civilization of the 660's AD. Both threads are first person and they are narrated by Jed de Landa; well it actually will be Jed and Jed(2), but read on to see the how and why.

Born in 1974 and displaced from his native Guatemalan village by military action, Jed is taken as a young age to the US and grows up in foster care in Utah, exhibiting physical frailty since he suffers from hemophilia so any wound or cut is potentially fatal, while showing great mental agility especially in fast numerical computations and ability to play games of skill and chance.

The Game that is the crux of the novel is a very sophisticated version of a "chase on the board game", where one opponent has many slower/weaker pieces, while the other has fewer fast/powerful ones. However there is a twist: the original Maya expert "sun adders" played the game as a ritual on a calendar board and at the highest nine runner level, its results were supposed to predict events in the future.
Since the Maya calendar ends on the symmetrical 12/21/12 date, and since the discovery of a Maya Codex in which a famous game played in 659 AD forecasts 12 disasters of increasing magnitude across time, some people take the game very seriously. Ten of the catastrophes have already happened in the intervening centuries, the 11th is "scheduled" for December 28, 2011, with the "biggie" on 12/21/12.
Of course the disasters have precise dates but otherwise the descriptions are cryptic, though all the 10 known ones are by man - the game predicts people's interactions, not natural events - and are clearly documented, the last being a nuclear disaster at a particle accelerator in 2010 in which 30000 people died.

In the present day the few "adders" that play the game like Jed who is most likely the best in the world, are puny players, hardly managing more than one stone games - and the magnitude of difficulty increases factorially, so a 4 stone game is 24 times more difficult than a three stone one, while a five stone is 120 time more difficult than a four stone one.
Even the best and most sophisticated software run by Jed's mentor, professor Taro and his employers at the secretive Warren corporation barely manage 3 stone level. Though even at a 2 stone level, the prediction results enable Jed to make a very comfortable living living trading futures, while the Warren corporation managed to avoided bankruptcy using the Game and now is making tons of money since Taro and Jed's work entered full production.

But the billionaire mormon CEO of the corporation combines ideology with philantropy and the profit motive so as he puts it "avoiding the end of the world is definitely not only philantropic, but good for profits too" and he is willing to pour unlimited resources in off the wall projects, including the one that will transport an instance of Jed's consciousness in the past, to be received by the unwilling brain of a local. The idea is of course for Jed(2) to learn as much possible about the game, write down the results on stone tablets and entombed with radioactive markers to be excavated "now".

In the Courts of the Sun stands at about 700 pages divided into four parts, with a prologue and a segue into the next novel. There are several maps, a Glossary of Maya terms, and extraordinary beautiful Maya glyphs and drawings scattered throughout the book. You can see several in the pages linked above.

The ending of the present day thread is just astounding and makes me want the next book asap, while the Maya part stops at a natural point. The present day action starts on December 23 2011 and occupies part 1, part 4 and the epilogue, while the Maya one starts in 664AD and occupies the prologue and parts 2 and 3.

ANALYSIS: In the Courts of the Sun turned out to be one of the most unexpected books of 09 for me in quality and enjoynment and it will feature prominently on my best of year lists for two main reasons that elevated it above usual "mysterious artifact/prophecies" thrillers or mysteries.

First is the whackiness of Jed. His narration is so off the wall, funny, moving, angry or dark at times that it carries the novel. I would say that since Gone Away World I have not read such a wonderfully zany first person novel. And In the Courts of the Sun is much tighter stylistically without the verbosity that marred Gone Away. A short excerpt from the first page of the novel will illustrate this and explain why when I opened the book I just was entranced:

“It worked, I thought. Holy mierditas.

It isn’t 2012. It’s 664. And it’s March 20. Or in Maya reckoning, it’s 3 Earth Rattler, 5 Rainfrog, in the eleventh uinal of the eleventh tun of the eleventh k’atun of the tenth b’ak’tun. And it’s about 4:48 A.M. Sunday.

Unbefarfreakingoutlieveable, I thought. They actually got it right. New bat time, same bat place. Not that I was actually in the same place in the universe, of course, if that even means anything. The solar system moves a lot in 1,347 years. But I was in the same spot on earth. I was still in a tiny room near the apex of the tallest pyramid in the city of Ix, in what would later be called Alta Verapaz, in central Guatemala. But now the sanctuary was orange with torchlight, and the columns of scarabesque glyphs on the walls were smooth and unpitted and polychromed in black, blue, and cochineal carmine. And now the city was alive. I could hear the crowds outside, or maybe, rather, I could feel their chanting through the stone. The point is that from my POV, I hadn’t moved in space. But I had— "

Then there is the whole Maya thread which is just an unbelievable example in world building that rivals any secondary world fantasy or future alien sf "universes" that I have ever read in sense of wonder and strangeness. And I read a lot of both.

While historical, the Maya culture as recreated by the author is so vividly different than ours, so full of sounds, color and memorable characters, from the local "chief" that takes Jed in his new persona under its wing, to the great Game player who played the fateful game of 559 that triggered the whole "trip in the past", now moved from her provincial upbringing to bigger and better things, or maybe riskier and more dangerous ones, as a sort of "heretic but tolerated for now" leader in the capital Teotihuacan, the unforgettable Lady Koh.

Since the near future story is Jed's tale, the characters encountered here are less vivid than the Mayans, but there is Marena Park the Warren Corporation's executive in charge of its whole entertainment division, famous artistic game designer, single mother of a hyperactive 9 year old and formerly of Disney World management. Since everything related to the Game: software emulator player, Taro, the Codex, comes under the "entertainment" heading Marena is the boss of Taro and later of Jed. And she is a perfect counterpart to Lady Koh, a modern master of corporate games as well as a very talented artist in her own.

If there is a weakness to the novel, I would say that the prologue while extarordinarily vivid as shown above, is also a bit abrupt and it takes a while to fully enter the spirit of the novel and figure out what's what - though how can you not after such an opening?

The "canned" villain of the 11th disaster that duly happens on the announced date in 2011 and is even more horrifying than the accelerator disaster elicted a laugh when I found out his identity, but then I sort of thought, well it's just too easy a choice, so that ultimately worked only so-so for me, but these are small niggles compared to the rest.

Highly, highly recommended and an extraordinary novel. Wacky, funny, moving. Check the excerpts and the description above and try it!!


Dave-Brendon de Burgh said...

Sounds very interesting, thanks Liviu! I'll definitely be checking this out. :-)

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; I was surprised at how much I liked this one; the wacky narration of Jed just enthralled me. I bought the book on the day it was published several weeks ago, and read it immediately.

The downside is that I tried another near-future thriller soon after finishing this one and it fell so flat, I could not finish it...

ediFanoB said...

What mouth watering review. Thanks Liviu!
Didn't know before that this book is part of a trilogy.

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; had no idea about the trilogy thingy either until the end which just stunned me and then it said: to be continued; no cliffhanger though

Looking carefully on the author's site it says clearly it's a trilogy and that is great since more Jed, more goodies :)

Check out the link through pages and see if you like the style.

For me the one drawback of this novel was that after it, I tried to read another near future thriller by an author I normally love: TINAG by WJW which Robert reviewed and liked a lot, and it fell so flat that I abandoned it after a fast read through just in case it got better...

Apologizing for the cliche, but reading This is not a Game after In the Courts of the Sun it really felt like trying to eat simple bread after a restaurant chef meal :)

Matt Markle said...

I just read this book as well and you are right on with your write up about the book. I read the book within one very busy week, not being able to put it down at night. I look forward to the next book.

Anonymous said...

But there were so many illogical mistakes!!!

ddcordova said...

I am enjoying the book wholly and am halfway. I cannot wait for books 2 and 3. I am not a math expert, but if you take the time to think about some of the things talked about, it makes sense. It has a sort of reality and scifi feel to it. Let's see what happens on 4 ahau shall we?

shaneo52 said...

Hey Liviu, I was checking this out today. I really want to get around to reading this. When is the next book coming out?

Lucas said...

Maya Calendar 2012

On December 21, 2012, ending the fourth cycle
Maya sun and his last period of 5,200 years, which are
exactly 64,315 moons, ie, 95 cycles of 677
moons. The beginning of this last cycle of 677 moons
end on December 21, 2012, was on 27 March
1958. The major event happened on a single
date, was the first supply of weapons, via
air sent to the Cuban guerrillas led by Fidel
Castro in the Sierra Maestra, and this made their
consequent strengthening key for nine months
after taking control of Cuba, January 8, 1959.
The significance of the number 95 (5 x 19) is: "Confrontation
with the disgrace of the times. " Precisely what it
process, in an unveiling on both sides, deceit
widespread, we must be attentive to the top of the
upcoming events. The significance of the number 677
(Cousin No. 121) is: "Sacrifice exempting guilt or
death "about this, and I particularly
I believe we are very close to a large
transatlantic and geographical event, which will be
beginning of the return of the continents to their state
original, The so-called Pangea, union of all
continents in one large land mass or continent
The division of the Pangea did not happen for millions of
years, nor was caused by the imbalance
product of meteorite falls as he explains the
modern science, was caused by water contained in
the tail of a comet, which passed very close for 40 days
the planet Earth this event or "Flood
Universal "is explained in several ways and the like
many ancient cultures, and in different continents;
very explicitly in Sumerian and cuneiform writings,
also in the Bible.
This excess water weight, which was destabilized
Pangea existing at the time, for 104 years
then in such event causing the change
Earth's axis and so-called continental drift or
division of Pangea, global event that gave
rise to the present continents. These findings
far from multimillion dates set by the
Current science, all this confrontation and support very
detail in the book "Matrix Veneciuela
Universal History, "which is free reading in the
Web: and

Lucas said...

The continental drift or division of Pangea, is a
same story in Greek and Hebrew culture, in the
accounts of Plato's Atlantis and the arrest of
sun and moon told in the book of Joshua, This Joshua,
their response of faith, it was only an observer, what happened
was that he was traveling on the continent while at the
war against five kings at Gibeon, and Joshua and all
watching him, the sun and moon did not move,
was because the continent where they were derived
like a ship, that they were not aware, but
yes the sun and moon were fixed in
places called Gibeon and Ajalon, ie both the
observers and the stars were moving
relatively about a day.
Well, I explained this here by leaps and bounds, for reasons
space and to highlight the start of the return
continents to its original state is in its
preliminary, ie the formation of Pangea
is too early to get ready, because the water left
comet that caused the "Great Flood" has fallen
much their level and soon this lack of weight desavendrá
the new imbalance, causing the return of
continents to its original state, the so-called Pangea.
To keep things simple with more numbers and cycles
history, I have said once, that in this period,
the most likely year for this great event is the
2012, between March 18, 2012 and December 21
2012, because that's where overlap and intersect one
series of historical cycles and indigenous prophecies
Bible, most of which have been interpreted as the end
the world, but not about that, but the start of
great discoveries and changes that will ultimately lead
the establishment of true faith in God, in the
belief and certainty of his word, justice, peace and
security throughout the world. According to the Mayas, the start
of the Fifth Sun and according to the Bible, the beginning of the Fifth
Then, returning to the interpretation of the number 677,
that is, "Sacrifice exempting guilt or death" is
need to do our part and start to
sacrifices or changes that put us at peace with God and
our neighbors. The most important sacrifice already
our God did by sending his son Jesus Christ to
to be our Redeemer, and as it says the word
God, just believe that Jesus is your Redeemer, and thou shalt be saved
and thy house. A fraternal embrace to all who provided

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