Summary from Goodreads:
A sweeping, epic historical novel of exploration and invasion, of conquest and resistance, and of an enduring love that must overcome the destruction of one empire by another.
Kidnapped at sea by conquistadors seeking the golden land of Peru, a young Inca boy named Waman is the everyman thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Forced to become Francisco Pizarro’s translator, he finds himself caught up in one of history’s great clashes of civilzations, the Spanish invasion of the Incan Empire of the 1530s. To survive, he must not only learn political gamesmanship but also discover who he truly is, and in what country and culture he belongs. Only then can he be reunited with the love of his life and begin the search for his shattered family, journeying through a land and a time vividly depicted here.
Based closely on real historical events, The Gold Eaters draws on Ronald Wright’s imaginative skill as a novelist and his deep knowledge of South America to bring alive an epic struggle that laid the foundations of the modern world.
My Review [SPOILERS AHEAD]:
“Normally I would put a quote here but the cover warns about my version of the book being confidential so NOPE” – Me
[Won the uncorrected and unpublished version of this gorgeous-looking book at a Goodreads book Giveaway. Thank you to Goodreads, the author and the publishers for this opportunity.]
[Triggers for this novel: rape, sexual harassment, sexual content, violence, gore]
Despite telling myself I was not going to pick up another historical fiction book after ‘A Burnable Book’, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly drawn to this one! I’m definitely not an expert on the genre, but I get the sense that historical fiction set in places other than England and France aren’t very common, and there’s different reasons for why, of course, but it’s a shame when other places are so rich in history and culture.
So here’s a book about the Spanish invasion of the Inca empire, which totally fascinates me ever since I’d watched this short documentary on the lives of the Inca people before the Spanish came and some of the consequences of their colonization. Of course, my favourite way of learning history, though, is through fiction. This one follows the life of Waman (later Christened as Felipe), a young man who is kidnapped by Spanish invaders, and is forced to become their interpreter, learning Spanish (Castillian, I believe) and the different accents of his language to be able to successfully communicate. While it was hard to place myself in that time, I can only imagine how nerve-wrecking it was for Waman, an insignificant fisher from a very small village, to find himself being the go-between for multiple Inca kings, the Spanish King Charles and high generals of military and advisers on both sides; and to be the interpreter, to know both tongues and thus to be valuable to the major players, but also incredibly vulnerable, is intense. And I believe Wright does an excellent job of conveying this characteristic in Waman. I really quite liked journeying with him across seas, countries, peoples, as he aged and became more aware than he ever could have been had he never been kidnapped. While I found him a tad bit boring at the start, over time I learned to appreciate who he was as a person and how his presence affected this monumental point in history.
Then there’s the supporting cast, and I’ll be honest, I can’t remember half of the secondary characters. I get the sense that authors who write historical fiction are so hell-bent on getting as many actual historical characters into their book that no character sticks out for too long before they’re killed, or I’m zipped away to some other time or place. It’s a bit annoying, as someone who judges a book by its characters, and makes me feel like I didn’t actually properly read the story (which I did!). So I’ll do my best to give my opinion as I remember them.
Well, there are the friends Waman makes on the Spanish ship: Molina, Tomas, and Candia. Molina was eventually left in Inca territory when the ship and Waman traveled back to Spain, and we got to follow him for a little while. He really seemed like an obnoxious character–flacky and hot-headed and selfish–which made his story drag for me and even when he’d shed his arrogant ways after marrying Waman’s mother and living with her for awhile, it just never stopped being like that annoying kid in class who tried to get attention any way he could. Tomas, we didn’t get to know for long but from what I recall, he seemed the calmest and gentlest and so that was nice to have while Waman was surrounded by Spanish savages. Candia I remember the best, as he watches out for Waman for most of the time so he shows up quite often. I felt like he was a nice balance between Molina and Tomas; calm, mature but with a rascal-like attitude. I enjoyed his steady, almost father-like presence around Waman.
Then there is Tika, Waman’s cousin and love interest. We don’t get to see much of her at the beginning, and since we follow Waman most of the time in the story, we don’t get to see much of her at all. My impression at the beginning was that she was a resourceful young woman and I felt that attribute stayed with her as she got older, encountered horrible sights and traveled much just to stay safe during this turbulent time. I also liked watching how she and Waman found each other time and again, despite the almost impossibility of it. But I just couldn’t back their love story; it was in Inca culture, but I’m a no-go for incest.
Besides Tika, there were the royals of the empire, who were both distinctive and very similar at the same time (doesn’t make sense, I know, but that’s the best way I could explain it). Which I guess in some way makes sense since they are all related to each other directly. Got to be honest, though, my favourite of the two Emperors shown to us was Manku. Since his introduction (a rather ballsy one, at that) I felt like he was quite different, in a good way, from Atawallpa, and I was all at once interested in the royal part of the Inca. Up until this point, I was as uninterested as I was with the royals in Spain. But Manku had more of a personality, in my opinion, and I did so enjoy his little private moment with Waman near the end. Though he wasn’t the brightest of the bunch; if he’d had more of Atawallpa’s distrust in the Spanish, he’d have ruled for a much longer time and done a pretty good job of kicking out the conquistadors. But that’s pretty much just my naive speculation; can’t rewrite history, now can I.
Now with a book like this that delves so heavily into conquests and war, there certainly was no single villain. In fact, I didn’t very much like most of the people on either side, though more so with the Spanish. I didn’t like the arrogance and savage behaviour from the Spanish (all colonizers are atrocious, let’s be honest) and I didn’t like that some of the Inca chose to delve more into fighting each other than be watchful of these invaders. But again, I’m sure the Inca civil war was a whole other, more complicated chapter. Obviously, you’re not supposed to like the colonizers, so at least I got that! I was just surprised that Francisco Pizarro–the guy who kidnapped Waman and forced him to be an interpreter, thus starting the whole plot, and who’s dreams of conquest and gold in Peru were what fueled the beginnings of the colonization of the Empire by the Spanish in the first place–was killed off-screen (or off-page). He was rather a major character, even getting sections of chapters all to himself, so I thought we’d be there for his death. But I was definitely happy to hear how he, his partners and his violent family members, who’d all come to try and conquer Peru, were killed. Though of course this didn’t better the circumstance of the oppressed and degraded Peruvians.
I can understand why there are so many characters, in the end, since most of them were historically significant during this time the author chose to focus on. Losing track of these characters detaches me from the plot, unfortunately.
Speaking of plot. Well, not much world-building there, obviously, but the setting was already perfect for an action- and history-packed novel. It was kind of scary watching how the thirst for gold from the Spanish drove them literally mad, and caused them to do horrifying things. But it was great to watch the Peruvians and Inca fight them off in their own ways, never fully allowing the conquistadors to break them, at least from what I could tell. I also loved the way Wright described the different landscapes of Peru, and even more so when he pointed out the differences in weather and accents as the cast of characters moved from region to region. It was very immersive, even when words that I’d never seen before were thrown in at haphazard times.
Extra stuff I liked is the inclusion of phrases in Waman’s tongue. I don’t know why I like it when other languages slink in with the English, but to me it really solidifies that these are two different people with vastly different languages and thus, vastly different ways of looking at the world. It’s kind of hard to see this discrepancy if they were all talking English the whole time but insisted that they couldn’t understand each other.
A few things I didn’t really like about the book include the usual; heavy wording, heavy language, heavy subjects. Things, of course, that are to be expected from a historical novel (though I’m always on the fence about including rape in anything, but whatever paints a picture of just how horrifying these conquests were is important) so not much of a bother. I felt like the book jumped around a little too much, with too many characters thrown around. There were sections of chapters dedicated to other characters besides Waman but they sometimes stopped abruptly, in Molina’s case, and sometimes they didn’t lead to anything, like in Pizarro’s case.
Overall, as an amateur historian, I was greatly impressed with the effort Wright put into this book. Reading around his biography, he is quite well-taught with regards to the history of South America, and it really shows in his eloquent writing and dedication to detail, despite the obscurity of references at times. He’s certainly earned a new fan, and I’ll be sure to look for his other award-winning books.
I enjoyed sitting myself down to read this book, even when I began feeling detached from it, and am very grateful for having won it and been given a chance to take a peek at this wondrous and deadly time of history through the eyes of Waman, one promptly stuck between these two arching worlds.