This is the follow-on novel to Voice of Stone, first in the historical trilogy, which covered Inca society immediately before the advent of the Spanish. The story of Beatriz’s fight for survival parallels the struggle of Inca culture to survive under Spanish domination. Both will endure like the silent stone used to build the fortress Sacsahuaman. Simultaneous with Beatriz’s rise in social standing is her growing sense of the mysteries of religious belief, both her accreted Christianity as a Morisca but also a sense of the syncretism of Catholicism and Inca cosmology in the belief system of the converted Indians. Nighthawk the stonecutter, Paullu Inca the puppet monarch, and Don Martin the Hispanicized translator represent this process.
Beatriz is one of two camp followers in Francisco Pizarro’s army. The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire is told through her eyes. In the picaresque tradition she and her bawdy companion Isabel survive by their wits and sheer pluck as they plod along the mountainous road to Cuzco with the ruthless conquistadors intent on gold and glory. Passion for Rodrigo Orgóñez, the dashing bastard son of a petty noble who seduces her and abandons her to a life of prostitution, initially motivates Beatriz to follow him aboard the ship of adventurers. Her infatuation has dimmed when the expedition lands on the coast of Peru where Beatriz, the Morisca (Spaniard of Moorish descent) realizes the New World offers her a place to rise in the social order.
She participates in the major events of the conquest – the execution of Atahualpa, the march south to Cuzco from Cajamarca, the Indian rebellion led by Manco Inca, and the civil war between Pizarro and Diego Almagro for control of Cuzco. Beatriz’s value rises by virtue of the fact she is one of the few Spanish women in the colony. She does not lose sight of her lowly birth and identifies with the subjugation of the native population. She develops a trading business both in imported Spanish goods and Inca arts and crafts, learns the Quechua language, and befriends the Incan king’s wife and a stonecutter’s family. Her status improves further when she marries a conquistador and is soon widowed. Soldiers who once scorned her vie for her hand in marriage. However, sixteenth-century society still constricts what she can do as a single woman.
The atrocities of conquest transform Beatriz in a way that does not occur with the horse soldiers from Castile whose greed for gold overrules curiosity or concern for the culture they pillaged. The New World for the lowly camp follower from Jerez de la Frontera represents rebirth and spiritual awakening. From her viewpoint the clash of disparate cultures is portrayed in a manner that will provide an eye opener for those unfamiliar with the chronicle of a band of less than two hundred soldiers subduing a vast mountainous empire like that of the Incas.
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