Five Dances with Death: Dance One

Adult
Rated 4.50/5 based on 7 reviews
Death is never far for Angry Wasp.

Slavers have kidnapped his daughter. His wife has turned to powerful sorcery. His people have challenged Montezuma's dominance and now face extinction. And the Spaniards have begun their march inland. More

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About Austin Briggs

Austin Briggs has spent over 10 years researching the history of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish Conquest to create his fascinating historical fiction series - even going so far as to experience some of the traditional magical rites of ancient Mexica himself.

He has always been fascinated with other cultures; in addition to his time in the lands that were once occupied by the Aztec peoples, he also lived in Russia, Japan, England, Switzerland, Cambodia, Lithuania, and Uzbekistan.

Austin has been a soldier in the army, an officer in the United Nations, and a global manager in a Fortune 10 company. He has been both a local and an outsider, a member of majority and of the minority, which he feels makes him able to write from the perspective of multiple characters, all of whom have various levels of status and acceptance in their world.

We are often told that history is written by the winners. Austin’s stories are told from the perspective of those who lost - though they went down fighting.

His fascination with the Aztec Empire during the time of the Spanish Conquest began because he is intrigued by the idea of a society that is about to lose itself entirely. He wanted to show how difficult and painful - and sometimes strangely inspiring - that process can be.

Also by This Author

Reviews

Review by: Lyn Meadows on Dec. 14, 2011 :
A great beginning to a new series highlighting the Aztec Culture. A rare find.

This book is the debut novel of a new series by author Austin Briggs, and if the title is any indication, I am expecting five books. I certainly hope that this is the case. Briggs crafts a beautifully written story centering around Wasp, the war lord of the Tlaxcalteca, a tribe of the Aztecs. This first book takes place as the various tribes of the Aztecs are warring with each other in the perennial fight for land and mastery within the Aztec nation. At the same time, the Spanish Conquistadors have just landed, which of course will complicate matters.

I have had an ongoing love affair with the Native American cultures since I was in high school, including the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans of Mexico and South America. For my part, I think that Mr. Briggs captured both the mysticism and brutality inherent in the Aztec culture perfectly. He highlighted their belief in mysticism and use of hallucinogenic substances to further out of body experiences without making it seem too modern or 20th century. At the same time, he gave his characters personalities that allowed them to seem "modern" and not at all archaic. The perfect balance, in my opinion.

Being the first book of the series, we were introduced to a lot of characters and ideas in this book that I am excited to see develop as the series progresses. In fact, my only complaint regarding this book was that the ending was rather sudden, definitely leaving me wanting more. I hope the second book comes out soon.
(reviewed long after purchase)

Review by: Lyn Meadows on Dec. 14, 2011 : (no rating)
A great beginning to a series highlighting Aztec culture. A rare find.

This book is the debut novel of a new series by author Austin Briggs, and if the title is any indication, I am expecting five books. I certainly hope that this is the case. Briggs crafts a beautifully written story centering around Wasp, the war lord of the Tlaxcalteca, a tribe of the Aztecs. This first book takes place as the various tribes of the Aztecs are warring with each other in the perennial fight for land and mastery within the Aztec nation. At the same time, the Spanish Conquistadors have just landed, which of course will complicate matters.

I have had an ongoing love affair with the Native American cultures since I was in high school, including the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans of Mexico and South America. For my part, I think that Mr. Briggs captured both the mysticism and brutality inherent in the Aztec culture perfectly. He highlighted their belief in mysticism and use of hallucinogenic substances to further out of body experiences without making it seem too modern or 20th century. At the same time, he gave his characters personalities that allowed them to seem "modern" and not at all archaic. The perfect balance, in my opinion.

Being the first book of the series, we were introduced to a lot of characters and ideas in this book that I am excited to see develop as the series progresses. In fact, my only complaint regarding this book was that the ending was rather sudden, definitely leaving me wanting more. I hope the second book comes out soon.
(reviewed long after purchase)

Review by: Lori M on Nov. 28, 2011 :
Having only one other experience in reading Historical Fiction I stepped, with great trepidation, into reading this novel. I was surprisingly pleased! Firstly because I am very interested in the Aztec history and, secondly, how their individual cultures and beliefs have left us both history and mystery, folk and lore, and the supernatural or paranormal history and legend that is known amongst Indians from all lands. Briggs allows the reader all of this and more.

Thankfully, for the benefit of the readers, Briggs understands that the spoken word that dominated large parts of Mesoamerica (the Nahuatl language) would deem most difficult to read. Instead, he eloquently and wisely chose beautiful [English-based] names for persons, places and things to which readers can better relate. For those interested, the provides a brief guide at the beginning of the novel to show what wonderful meanings the Aztec vocabulary has.

In this novel, "Wasp" (a leader, a husband and a father) tells the story of his place and time in one of the many ethnic groups of central Mexico shortly before the Spanish Conquistadors take over completely. I found it pleasurable reading for the author to have Wasp tell us his story in the first person narrative. This way, the reader is privy to all of Wasp's innermost feelings, his actions and reactions, his explanation [in descriptive detail] of his surroundings and all of the activities during this tumultuous time. All told in a colorful way.

The year is 1519. The main character (Wasp) is one lovable angry warrior. He is also known as "Angry Wasp" for good reason. He loses a very young daughter into the slave market trade with no easy way to get her back. He is leader of a small nation having just as many opponents as allies. Who is friend or foe at every turn makes for uneasy living although, over time, that really hasn't changed much for humans.

Wasp must protect his lands and his people learning that he must become a more 'Angry Wasp' as he very highly ~feels~ and knows that the "outlanders" (conquistadors) are coming to threaten everything the old Mexico ever knew. Wasp must pick and choose his battles carefully. There is the battle of finding his daughter. There is the battle to keep everything his culture and tradition held dear. Wasp must choose what takes precedence as time marches on.

Games (in every sense of the word) are played to win and lose loved ones as well as making a final decision on WHO may be sacrificed at any given time. The sacrifices are not for the weak of heart but those were the times of such practices. Briggs does not leave Montezuma out of this novel but calls him, instead, "Stern Lord." Stern Lord takes part in these games to see who is to be sacrificed and how so.

Wasp's wife of nature (Broken Plume) is a powerful influence upon him -- not only as his wife but as a woman of nature; a sorceress. Such people of of nature or the forest are called Otomíes and not looked highly upon from other "cultured" Aztec peoples. Not surprisingly, Wasp had a second wife (Rainbow) who is a Toltec. I was pleased to see at least one character of the "Toltec" culture brought into this novel as I am somewhat familiar with the legendary Toltecs. The Aztecs saw the Toltecs as their own predecessors whom they glorified in order to be able to legitimize their own structures of power by claiming royal descent from Toltec lineages. In Wasp's own words, his Toltec wife (Rainbow) "was the pride of my family and my bid to equality with all the rulers of the One World. Having a real Toltec wife was as important to enter the select clique of nobility as having land for the peasants to cultivate." A personal and political advantage for Wasp. Rainbow also gave him a son. Needless to say, Rainbow is not fond of Broken Plume but is a man to do? It worked in history and it works for Wasp.

Finding Dew (his daughter with Broken Plume that was lost in the slave trade ever since she could walk) was a personal matter for Wasp and finding her was one mission among others in this novel. He works with others to try to find his daughter (who became a nameless youngster among hundreds sold in the slave trade) while trying to dodge the enemies bent on destroying taking over their lands and, therefore, culture. This is where a novel of this type could use a little (or a lot) of paranormal activity to get what they need. Wasp has learned that smoking a potent mixture of mushrooms and bark can solve a lot of problems -- gaining paranormal means -- but always at a price.

Aztec cultures are steeped in rich and complex mythological and religious traditions. They also see the world in many dimensions. The author takes advantage of this and also what puts FIVE DANCES WITH DEATH into the category of fantasy or supernatural or paranormal as well as a stroke of Historical fiction.

In this tale, some Aztecs (including Wasp) are able to separate their mind, soul and spirit from their body and create a "double" of themselves. For history purposes, this is very common among any Indian or Aztec tribes. In doing so, they can go and visit others with the same paranormal gifts (those who can create doubles of themselves) and get a sense of what is happening in other lands as well as with other people. Wasp finds that he can have a little fun with those people [especially his enemies] by visiting and entering their minds and therefore playing with their heads.

Wasp knows that he needs to stay grounded in the real world (instead of enjoying the stalking others by instant travel via smoking and being able to make a double of himself in the spirit world) to both protect his lands and find his daughter but he also needs such an occasional relief from the common stressors of a leader in the real world. Wasp chooses to smoke a bit too much which leads to him leaving his body too often. His wife of nature (Broken Plume) showed him many things from the natural world by being a sorceress but she strongly and adamantly advises Wasp NOT to enter into the fantasy or paranormal world by smoking too much. Her wisdom is profound but Wasp does not listen since euphoric activities and instant travel are too much of an attraction - or addiction. Being allowed instant travel out of his body certainly has its advantages but just as many downfalls. This is simply because one easily loses control of themselves as well as drains themselves of their necessary energy needed as a leader of clans and lands. Yet if Wasp did not have some relief from reality and something else to occupy his mind he may end up destroying himself.

A man named "Hernan" becomes Wasp's first victim to play mind games with. In historical fact Hernán Cortés was the Spanish explorer who is famous mainly for his march across Mexico and his conquering of the Aztec Empire in Mexico. The perfect victim for Wasp to have control over. Having the ability to leave his physical body and become a spirit entity certainly has its perks. Wasp's initial out of body visits to enter Hernán's head and thought briefly reminded me of how the ghost of Marley (in 'Scrooge') visits, taunts and scares Scrooge. Wasps further visits into Hernan's mind did have its advantages -- in war time especually. Although, as we know from history, Wasp had no real control over Cortés since Cortés and his army wiped out two thirds of the Aztec population. But this is where the FANTASY of this novel comes into play for the reader.

From there, the novel takes us through the old Mexico with the Aztecs (specifically Wasp and Broken Plume) battling wits and strength with others who have sorcerers of their own (the Mayans and other peoples of the area). The reader is taken firsthand through ceremonies and festivals. Places where games are played not only for fun but for the winners to sacrifice the lives and souls of those they have put in cages in a nearby room. The killings are for the gods and nothing more. The sacrifices are quite descriptive but the norm for the culture at that time. One such game in the novel became more fun to read because in legend or lore one can't physically kill an individual of nature (or sorceress like Plume). Her heart may be physically torn out but her spiritual being remains and is seeing those killing her. Undoubtedly a plus for not only Plume but for Wasp himself.

Beginning in 1990 [why then I have no idea] I began to feel a certain "link" to not only Native American Indians but other cultures... including the Aztecs. Even without having much knowledge whatsoever of either one. I also do not have the desire to read dry history so FIVE CHANCES WITH DEATH offered me the unique opportunity to live during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors and their conquest of the Aztec empire. In all honesty however, I think I would've enjoyed the novel more if Wasp wasn't fooling around with his paranormal abilities as much as he did but the author chose to have that amount of supernatural fantasy and I can't blame him as it is what he found pleasure in writing.

Without a doubt, Author Austin Briggs, has done his research on the Spanish conquistadors & The Aztec Empire. Historical fiction can be good or bad but with the Briggs' travels to different places in our world to gather FIRSTHAND information certainly puts this historical fiction novel right up there with the best.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Barth Siemens on Nov. 25, 2011 :
"Five Dances with Death: Dance One" evokes the Aztec world in a manner that the story almost reads itself. The main characters have realistic development that dovetails with the interesting plot. Austin Briggs balances a natural writing style with enough new words to maintain a sense of discovery. I am fascinated by Angry Wasp's struggle to discern what and whom he can trust as he interacts with his physical and magical worlds. My empathy for Angry Wasp and those he loves was heightened by the conflicts that were exacerbated by his confusion. With bated breath, I anticipate the next book in this series.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: cassandra pearson on Sep. 07, 2011 :
Different from anything I have ever read before, “Five Dances With Death” by Austin Briggs is definitely an intense read. It’s very apparent that a lot of research went into the creation of this story. The writing is extremely descriptive and the world came alive. It felt like I was in an environment similar to “Apocalypto” with magic and sorcery added into the mix. Even though there were some fantastical elements, it still read more like historical fiction to me than fantasy. It felt very real. Wasp, the leader of the Tlaxcala people, is on a mission to get his daughter back from the slavers that took her. He refuses to give up looking for her. Everyone tells him to “move on”, but he can’t. His wife, Broken Plume teaches him a little magic. He decides he has enough knowledge of magic, and against the advice of Plume, goes farther than he ever has before. Wasp doesn’t realize until it’s too late, that he is in trouble. I was constantly getting angry with Wasp. He is always jumping into action, without thinking about the consequences of where those actions would lead or listening to the better judgment of others. Wasp soon discovers that his wife Plume is a way more powerful Sorcerer than he ever realized and becomes suspicious of her. Wasp never gives up searching for his daughter, Dew. One dangerous adventure after another, Wasp throws himself into all kinds of trouble where he has to fight for his life. At one point, Wasp plays a serious game with Stern Lord and my palms were sweaty and my heart was beating hard--gambling with other peoples’ lives, ripped out hearts…heavy stuff, but that’s why it’s so exciting. There is a lot of death, and sacrifice in this story. If you are interested in historical fiction, this book is just for you. You will enjoy it!
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Katy Sozaeva on Sep. 01, 2011 :
“Five Dances with Death” is a historical fiction novel, based on the time when the Spaniards were just beginning their advances into Meso-America with their related destruction of the indigenous culture, religion and independence. Wasp is the war leader of the Tlaxcala and he has been learning sorcery from his wife, Broken Plume, in his attempts to find his daughter, Dew, who he lost into slavery when she was just a baby. He achieves his searches through astral projection, basically, and during one episode his wife takes him to the coast, where the Mayans live, and shows him the boats of the Conquistadors. He becomes obsessed with the outlanders, and tries to convince the ruling council that they must fight them. However, the council is more concerned with the Mexica, under the rulership of Stern Lord.

It’s hard to really describe the plot – Wasp changes a great deal throughout the book, but at the same time remains essentially the same inside – a simple man, a warrior. Based upon other historical fiction novels I’ve read that covered this period in history, this book is quite well researched; many of the people and places are historically accurate, and that makes it even more interesting. It also led to a couple rants by me about the way the indigenous people were treated by the Spaniards, but that’s a different matter.

I highly recommend this novel to those who are interested in the Meso-American tribes, particularly those who existed around the time of Cortez and Montezuma. This book is not as gory as many I’ve read – at least one of the books I read went into such detail about the rituals and sacrifices that it turned my stomach on occasion. This book references many of the gods and some of the rituals, but doesn't get into a great deal of detail, making it a bit easier to read for those of a more squeamish bent. Check it out – it’s a good read and I’m looking forward to the next books in the series.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Tarrin P. Lupo on Aug. 14, 2011 :
I was not sure what to expect from this book, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I am a history nut, so I picked it up thinking this was a historical fiction. I quickly figured out it was more like a fantasy crossed with a historical fiction. I really liked how the author grounded his work with real history but then added some gods and magic into the mix. It was an interesting style that was pretty unique, but I have to admit it grew on me and by the end I really enjoyed it. I liked the interaction the hero has with the Three-Hearts, Outlanders and Mexica. To be fair, I have to say you really have to focus sometimes on what is going on or you will get lost. There are many characters and gods. Also the characters sometimes have outer body experiences, so if you don't pay close attention , it can be a little difficult to figure out want is going on. THANKFULLY, the author added a very handy list of characters and terms in his prologue which I found extremely useful. This was an excellent idea. Mr. Briggs did an excellent job capturing the time period and keeping the story interesting and moving. If you like your fantasy based on real history you will love this book, go buy it now!
(reviewed the day of purchase)

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