Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A sprawling historical epic that follows the life of an Aztec nobleman as he experiences love, war, and the fall of his civilization.


In the historical novel "Aztec" by Gary Jennings, readers are transported to the vibrant and complex world of the Aztec civilization. Through the eyes of the main character, Mixtli, the author takes us on a journey spanning several decades, exploring the rise and fall of the Aztec Empire. With meticulous research and vivid storytelling, Jennings brings to life the rich culture, religious practices, and political intrigue of this ancient civilization.

Brief Synopsis

The story is set in the 15th century, primarily in the Valley of Mexico, the heartland of the Aztec Empire. Mixtli, the protagonist, is born into a humble family and grows up in the countryside. His life takes a dramatic turn when he is selected to be a "tlatelolco," a noble page, and is sent to the grand city of Tenochtitlan. There, he witnesses the splendor of the Aztec capital and becomes entangled in the political machinations of the empire.

Mixtli's journey takes him to different regions within the empire, allowing readers to explore the diverse landscapes and cultures of ancient Mesoamerica. From the bustling markets of Tenochtitlan to the mysterious jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula, Jennings paints a vivid picture of the Aztec world.

Main Characters

MixtliThe protagonist and narrator of the story. Mixtli is a commoner who rises through the ranks of Aztec society, experiencing both triumphs and tragedies along the way.
TzitziMixtli's childhood friend and love interest. She is a strong and independent woman who challenges societal norms.
HuitzilihuitlThe ruler of Tenochtitlan and a powerful figure in the empire. He becomes a mentor and father figure to Mixtli.
ChimalpopocaHuitzilihuitl's successor and Mixtli's close friend. He faces numerous challenges during his reign as the Aztec Empire expands.
MontezumaThe last emperor of the Aztec Empire. Montezuma's reign is marked by turmoil and the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

Summary of Story Points

Chapters 1-5: The Early Years

Mixtli narrates his childhood in a small village, describing his family, daily life, and the influence of Aztec religious practices. He is chosen as a "tlatelolco" and sent to Tenochtitlan, where he discovers the wonders of the city and begins his journey into adulthood.

Chapters 6-10: Life in the City

Mixtli adapts to his new life in Tenochtitlan, serving as a page in the palace of Huitzilihuitl. He witnesses political intrigue, encounters new cultures, and falls in love with Tzitzi. The city's grandeur and the empire's expansion are highlighted.

Chapters 11-15: The Jungle and Beyond

Mixtli embarks on a dangerous journey to the Yucatan Peninsula, accompanying a high-ranking Aztec official. He encounters various indigenous tribes, battles treacherous conditions, and faces personal challenges that test his loyalty.

Chapters 16-20: Montezuma's Reign

Mixtli returns to Tenochtitlan, but the empire is facing new threats, both internal and external. Montezuma ascends the throne, and Mixtli becomes entangled in the emperor's complex relationships with rival city-states and the looming arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

Chapters 21-25: The Arrival of the Conquistadors

As the Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernán Cortés, arrive in Mexico, Mixtli witnesses the clash of civilizations. He becomes torn between his loyalty to the Aztecs and his growing curiosity about the Spaniards. The story reaches its climax with the fall of Tenochtitlan and the end of the Aztec Empire.

Main Events

  1. Mixtli's selection as a "tlatelolco" and his journey to Tenochtitlan.
  2. Mixtli's experiences in Tenochtitlan, including his relationships with Tzitzi and Huitzilihuitl.
  3. Mixtli's journey to the Yucatan Peninsula and his encounters with different indigenous tribes.
  4. The rise of Montezuma and the challenges faced by the Aztec Empire.
  5. The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and the fall of Tenochtitlan.

Themes and Insights

  1. Cultural Identity: The novel explores the complexities of cultural identity and the challenges faced by individuals who straddle multiple worlds. Mixtli, as a commoner living among nobles and encountering foreigners, grapples with his own sense of belonging.
  2. Religion and Belief Systems: The Aztec religious practices, rituals, and beliefs are central to the story. The novel delves into the spiritual world of the Aztecs and their relationship with the gods.
  3. Power and Politics: The political landscape of the Aztec Empire is a prominent theme, with rivalries, alliances, and power struggles shaping the course of events. Mixtli witnesses the inner workings of political power and the consequences of decisions made by rulers.
  4. Colonization and Conquest: The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and the subsequent conquest of the Aztec Empire provide a stark contrast between two civilizations. The novel delves into the devastating impact of colonization and the clash of cultures.

Reader's Takeaway

"Aztec" offers readers a captivating and immersive experience into the world of the Aztecs. Jennings' meticulous research and attention to detail bring the characters and setting to life, allowing readers to gain a deeper understanding of the Aztec civilization. The novel offers a thought-provoking exploration of cultural identity, religion, and the consequences of power. It serves as a reminder of the complex history that shaped the Americas and the resilience of indigenous cultures.


Gary Jennings' "Aztec" is a rich and epic historical novel that transports readers to the vibrant and complex world of the Aztec Empire. Through the eyes of the protagonist, Mixtli, readers witness the rise and fall of a civilization, exploring themes of cultural identity, religion, power, and colonization. With its vivid storytelling and meticulous attention to historical detail, "Aztec" is a must-read for anyone interested in Mesoamerican history and the human experience in the face of adversity.

Aztec FAQ

  1. What is the book 'Aztec' about?

    The book 'Aztec' by Gary Jennings is a historical novel that follows the life of Mixtli, a young Aztec boy, as he navigates the complex and violent world of ancient Mexico.

  2. Is 'Aztec' based on true events?

    Yes, 'Aztec' is a work of historical fiction that is heavily researched and based on real events and customs of the Aztec Empire.

  3. How accurate is the historical content in 'Aztec'?

    Gary Jennings spent years researching Aztec history and culture to ensure the accuracy of the book. While it is a work of fiction, it provides a detailed and well-researched portrayal of the Aztec civilization.

  4. What time period does 'Aztec' cover?

    'Aztec' spans several generations and covers the time period from the rise of the Aztec Empire in the 14th century to its fall in the 16th century.

  5. Is 'Aztec' suitable for young readers?

    'Aztec' contains mature content, including violence and sexual themes, which may not be appropriate for young readers. It is recommended for mature readers.

  6. Are there any sequels or companion books to 'Aztec'?

    Yes, Gary Jennings wrote a sequel to 'Aztec' titled 'Aztec Autumn,' which continues the story of the Aztec Empire after the Spanish conquest. There are no official companion books, but 'Aztec' is part of a trilogy called 'The Aztec Series,' which includes 'Aztec Blood' as the third book.

  7. How long is the book 'Aztec'?

    'Aztec' is a lengthy novel, spanning over 1,000 pages, depending on the edition. It provides a rich and detailed narrative of the Aztec civilization.

  8. Is 'Aztec' available in other languages?

    Yes, 'Aztec' has been translated into several languages, including Spanish, French, German, and Italian, among others.

  9. Has 'Aztec' been adapted into a movie or TV series?

    As of now, there has been no official movie or TV series adaptation of 'Aztec,' but the book's rich storytelling and historical backdrop could make it a compelling candidate for adaptation in the future.

  10. Where can I purchase a copy of 'Aztec'?

    You can find 'Aztec' by Gary Jennings at most major bookstores, as well as online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository.