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Thursday, July 5, 2012

"The Sacrifice Game" by Brian D'Amato (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order "The Sacrifice Game" HERE
Read FBC Review of “In the Courts of the Sun

INTRODUCTION:  In 2009, Brian D'Amato published the superb In the Courts of the Sun first in an announced trilogy called The Sacrifice Game. The novel was a combination of near-future extrapolations, time travel and a wonderful recreation of the Maya world of the 7th century, all narrated by unlikely hero  Jed de Landa, or more precisely by Jed 1 and Jed 2 as the novel uses a form of time travel which leads to an instance of the consciousness of Jed to be time shifted to the brain of Chacal, a star Maya ball player of the Harpy clan of Ix.

Here is my description of Jed in the FBC review linked above:

"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".

I was entranced by the novel and its fascinating narrator and I kept looking for the second book in 2010, 2011 and then sort of forgot about it. Imagine my surprise to recently discover that the 2nd Jed de Landa novel that bears the trilogy title, The Sacrifice Game will be published on July 5.

As the blurb of the novel includes a major spoiler for the ending of In the Courts of the Sun, I will not include it here just in case you have not read that but are intrigued by the above and want to pick it first, but I will note that The Sacrifice Game starts precisely where the earlier volume ends and the rest of the blurb is both true and misleading in the sense that there is no more "Jed", but Jed 1 and Jed 2 who diverged markedly - to say the least - in the first volume and some of the blurb refers to one, some to the other...

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Sometimes—at times like this, I’d say, especially—one might as well just go with the cliché: I was crushed. Yes, it’d be nice to come up with a more clever word than crushed, but really, why bother? Crushed pretty well does the job. 

What surprised even me, though, was how much I wasn’t crushed just because I was a lazy slob and I’d thought I could relax. It was that I—even I—was rather annoyed, in fact more than annoyed, in fact, let’s say again, crushed—that the world was still doomed. And I even realized that I cared about it in the general sense, not just personally, that even if I died back here from my neuroblastomas or in a ball game or by the flint dagger or the wooden sword or whatever, even if I didn’t get back to the thirteenth b’aktun to see Marena and the gang and catch the next season of Game of Thrones, I still wanted the good old crazy ratty loathsome ridiculous old world to keep rolling on.

Okay. Look. We can do this, I thought...."
 The Sacrifice Game is even badder, crazier and more explicit and brutal than In the Courts of the Sun - which was not tame by any stretch - as it is almost all narrated in the same unforgettable voice of Jed de Landa, though Jed 2, the 660's Maya one and to whom the stream of consciousness musings above belong, carries on for most of the book.

Structurally, The Sacrifice Game starts with Jed 1 in the modern world after his momentous decision at the end of the last book and deals with its implementation and a few consequences, but soon it moves to the Maya world where the book just explodes as it gets even better than In the Courts of the Sun with unbounded sense of wonder, meticulous research and all around inventiveness that matches anything I've read in sf set on an alien world; of course here we are still on Earth, but in a civilization where the author hits the sweet spot in the mixture of alien and familiar in describing it:

"A brace of bearers brought in the white-wrapped ball Hun Xoc had brought back from 31 Courts, holding the too-potent bundle with wooden hands, and tied it to the service cord. An umpire inspected the knot, signaled, and the ball was hoisted up, hanging above the central marker stone.

“Now, One, Two, Four, Five, Seven, Nine, Thirteen,” the Magister Ludi chanted, switching from the second-person plural imperative to the apostrophic tense you used only when speaking to gods,

“Now Twenty, Fifty-Two, Two Hundred Sixty,
O Night, O Wind, O Day, O Rain, O Zero,
Now, guests, inspect 2 Creeper’s blood-washed head.”

2 Creeper had been the greatest Ixian ballplayer in living memory, but he’d sacrificed himself thirty-nine solar years ago after an ankle injury. The Ball had been wound of white rubber around 2 Creeper’s skull as a hollow center—to increase the bounce—and then baked black and studded with painted thorns, like little nails. Finally the ball had been purified in two kinds of blood and then washed in original water boiled over the offering fires of both houses’ grandfathers-houses."

Lady Koh, ultimate Sacrifice Game player of the age and big time politician to boot, 2 Jeweled Skull, leader of the Harpy clan in Ix, second most powerful man there, adoptive father to Jed/Chacal, currently in the contest of his life with 9 Fanged Hummingbird, the Ocelot clan supremo of Ix, Hun Xoc, son of 2JS, lead ball player of the Harpies team and Jed's main adviser/friend, 1 Gila, right hand man of Lady Koh and war leader of her followers are back, while of course quite a few new Mayan characters appear. As excerpted above there is one unforgettable game of hipball for the fate of Ix and by extension, our heroes and life as we know it, not to speak of many other goodies which I do not want to spoil for you...

There are quite a few twists and turns and the author manages a rare feat as first person narration goes; while it would be a major spoiler to talk about it in detail, I am sure any attentive reader will observe it by the end of the novel. 

The last few chapters that take place back in the modern world have a thriller-ish feel to them - after all  the book is set in 2012 close to 12-21-12 and the race to avoid the ultimate "doomster" is the main storyline in the contemporary part of the novel.

The Sacrifice Game has another surprising but fitting ending giving the book the feel of a complete experience which also leaves one quite in the dark about where the series will go next as it's supposed to be a trilogy.

Overall The Sacrifice Game - top 25 novel of 2012 and currently in the number two slot - came with very high expectations and I was really surprised by how effortlessly it blew past them and offered the most sensual and visual reading experience of the year for me.


J.Curtis Mace said...

Sounds very interesting and beautifully articulated. A little more alien than I'm accustombed to, but I think it's worth a look (given your review). Thx

Anonymous said...

I pre-ordered the new book on ebay and cannot wait much longer to dive back into the incredibly detailed Mayan world that D'Amato brought to life in the first book. Maybe book three has already been outlined, otherwise how can D'Amato have it published before 21 December, 2012, and still be timely for us who breathlessly await the end of the 13th baktun?
Curt Sandberg, Anaheim, CA

Liviu said...

@Curtis - hope you like it; the narrator and the Maya world are awesome

@Curt - well, it's a spoiler, but 12-21-12 is dealt with it here; however something else appears (big twist at the end btw) and that is why book 3 is another huge asap!

Anonymous said...

Just getting into "The Sacrifice Game". After waiting so long for its publication, had to go back and re- read parts of "In the Courts of the Sun" - to my immense pleasure! Have not seen before a better combination of bold imagination, scrupulous research and just first class writing.

John Chris


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