2000’s Inca is the first volume of Suzanne Allés Blom’s Inca alternate-history trilogy.
Exemplary Fortune — or Atahualpa, as he is known to history — is a loyal prince of the Four Quarters, serving the Unique Inca, Young Majesty. Young Majesty has ruled for more than thirty years. Now, however, disturbing omens suggest that Young Majesty’s era of comparative peace1is at an end.
News is received from the town of Recognition: peculiar strangers have arrived in a bizarre boat. EF is dispatched to investigate.
By the time Exemplary Fortune and his retinue make their way across the Four Quarters to Recognition, the visitors are long gone, having taken with them some local subjects. They have left behind two of their own. The visitors are unfamiliar with Humanity’s Mouth, the language of Four Quarters. They are equally unfamiliar with civilized comportment. This is particularly true for the violent stranger whom Exemplary Fortune dubs Tamed Ocelot. His behavior is so unacceptable that Exemplary Fortune takes him prisoner, in order to protect the Inca subjects.
News that Young Majesty has died arrives in Recognition. This is surprising news; most Unique Incas live longer than Young Majesty did. However, there is no cause for general alarm; the Four Quarters is an ordered realm. There are procedures for dealing with the sudden death of a Unique Inca. Exemplary Fortune knows that by the time his party delivers its report on the stranger, Young Majesty’s heir, Bright Rainbow, will have been invested as the new Unique Inca.
The people of the Four Quarters are not prepared for the other traveler left behind by the strangers: measles. The resulting virgin-soil epidemicburns through the Four Quarters, killing many people. Among the fatalities: Bright Rainbow.
The newest Unique Inca is a prince named Cable. Cable does not care for Exemplary Fortune, who is also a potential Unique Inca. The Four Quarters being a totalitarian state, it would be trivial to find some pretext — such as endangering the subjects of the Four Quarters by bringing a dangerous prisoner such as Tamed Ocelot into the empire — to justify executing Exemplary Fortune. Cable decides instead to appoint Exemplary Fortune governor of far Completion Province, in effect exiling Exemplary Fortune.
Ensconced in Completion Province, Exemplary Fortune has time to learn more about the strangers from his prisoner, the violent, uncivilized Tamed Ocelot. Every new fact is somehow even more alarming than the last: the “Spanish” have unbreakable metal, riding animals with no analog in the Four Quarters, are unrelentingly warlike, chaotic, greedy beyond measure, and oh, yes, will definitely be returning to conquer the Four Quarters.
Each section has a brief note detailing what happened in history as we know it. As you know, matters turned out very badly for the Four Quarters.
While ISFDB lists only Inca, a search on Amazon shows two more volumes: Inca: The Scarlet Fringe, and Inca: Seeds of Reckoning. However, some sources indicate the first volume was called Inca: The Scarlet Fringe, so either Amazon, which once credited me as “James Micoll,” is confused or I am.
Many historical novels feature protagonists who react against their time and place just as someone from the author’s world would react. Feisty heroines, enlightened heroes, etc. Exemplary Fortune is very much of his time and place. He is a happy subject of the Unique Inca; he truly believes in its laws and values. If the current Unique Inca decides the Four Quarters would be better off with Exemplary Fortune dead, Exemplary Fortune would accept execution for the greater good. From what we see of his peers, many would share this viewpoint.
The Spanish system, as seen through the eyes of one of the Incans who leaves with the visitors, is nowhere near as well run as the Inca domain. Spain offers its subjects disease, filth, poverty, and incessant war, in exchange for a very small chance at inordinate wealth. This arrangement seems unbelievable, but apparently this was how it worked in some European societies.
This book’s prose and characterization are workmanlike. The plot is fine as far as it goes. However, it only goes as far as one would expect from the first book in a trilogy. It establishes the setting and outlines the conflict that will disrupt the Four Quarters. It does end on something of an up note, but it is clear that conflict is only beginning. It’s a complete novel, but a bit unsatisfactory.
1: Which is to say, incessant wars of conquest with the Four Quarter’s neighbours. From an Incan perspective, they are spreading civilization and ordered prosperity. Their neighbours are rather skeptical of these claims.