Posted on April 1, 2009 by Monica Valentinelli
December 21, 2012 is the last day in the Mayan calendar, a day that many believe to herald the end of an Age. “In the Courts of the Sun” is a book written by Brian D’Amato, that explores the “end times” myth from a different perspective — literally.
At well over sixty-hundred and fifty pages, In the Courts of the Sun is an extremely complex work that tells the story of Jed DeLanda, a Mayan descendant who is an expert at the “Sacrifice Game.” The novel opens with an intense Prologue, where we first meet Jed in the mind of Chacal, a ball player who is posing as a King and is about to be sacrificed. Here Jed tells us he’s part of something called the Warren Commission, trying to prevent the end of the world.
Immediately following the Prologue we are taken back in time, well before the start of the adventure to help the reader understand a bit of Jed’s back story.
At this point I’d like to note that my review may contain ***spoilers*** past this point, so read on at your own risk.
When I say that this is an extremely complex book, I mean that there is a certain density to the work based on the amount of details (names, places, characters, etc.) and plot mechanics. A lot of time is spent explaining the importance of the “Sacrifice Game” which is, in many ways, a game of divination that can increase in complexity depending upon the number of components used. Jed’s mother taught him the Sacrifice game, but instead of using the game to resolve psychological or humanitarian events — he uses it to make money. Is there a “cost” for his actions? No, there is not. If you look at other books where divination is employed as part of the plot (even if that divination comes from a game like Chess) you get the sense that there are some serious moral questions that come into play when divining the future. Here, Jed doesn’t encounter morality partially because the Sacrifice Game is portrayed to be mechanical, a bit like the game of Go.
I feel that this lack of remorse is important to point out because Jed appears to be guilt-free. Indeed, he has “special” abilities that were written as “mental illness” or some other unusual aspect of Jed’s mental prowess. These abilities had the opposite effect on me, however, as they forced me to question his humanity as a character. Written in the first person (both in the historical timeline and in present day) I do not feel for this character, nor do I feel for those around him. This emotional detachment forced me to focus on the action of the story, which I had eagerly anticipated after the Prologue. Unfortunately, the book was structured in such a way that I had to wait two-thirds of the way through before I could revisit the land of the Maya again.
There is no question in my mind that months — if not years — of research went into this book. The images used in the book were really impressive, and enhanced the overall feel of the Mayan culture and story that takes place in AD 664. The writing for the historical portions of the book were intriguing and very well-written. My challenges with the story were due primarily with the way that it was structured.
I had quite a bit of trouble following what was happening in modern day and why it was so important. For example, the history lesson of the tragic events surrounding the Mayans seemed a bit forced, but I felt that those descriptions did contribute to Jed’s overall character. Structurally, I was surprised to see that there are pages full of dialog with no “tags” or indication as to whom is speaking. Characters are introduced and some actions happen so rapidly that I had to re-read sections to find out “why” the Warren Commission was so interested in stopping the events of 2012, and “why” Marena had such a stake in the Commission to begin with. In the Courts of the Sun is a book that needs to be read carefully and slowly, to ensure that you’re not missing anything.
The “time travel” or shift to ensure Jed’s consciousness was sent back to an appropriate person at a specific place and time was wholly unbelievable to me. The realistic depiction of the tech and brainpower behind the Warren Commission forced me to weigh the actual act of “travel” more heavily than some of the other elements in the plot mechanics. Again, I’ve had to re-read sections here to digest the time travel and the “split” in consciousness that occurred once Jed showed up in the past. In the end, while I understand the logistics, I feel that the modern day section could have been handled different to ensure that the “past” (which is brilliant) has more of an effect. For example, if our modern day was written in third person instead of by Jed, I would have been able to “see” and “relate” to the characters through more of an unbiased, narrator’s lens.
Why am I critiquing the structure of the book so thoroughly? First, please understand that a book of this length and complexity is a massive undertaking for any writer. Historical fiction — in any way, shape or form — is one of the hardest to write for several reasons. I honestly felt that the historical sections of the book were written masterfully; this is where In the Courts of the Sun truly shines. Second, I did not like the ending of the book for many reasons. In order to give this book a fair review, I found myself asking a lot of questions to understand why I felt the way that I did. Most of my challenges with the ending related to how the story was told.
Rating this book is pretty difficult for me, because I recognize the amount of “think” that went into this book and am of two minds on the writing. If I had to give it a rating, I would say “three out of five stars” overall. If you’re interested in reading In the Courts of the Sun, keep in mind that this is a longer work of complexity that will require careful and slow reading.
Review by Monica Valentinelli