Romance with a fascinating backdrop
I'm a Brit and know almost nothing about Mexico, the Maya or ancient Mayan art. However, having read Beautiful Sacrifice, I now know a lot more.
It's fascinating stuff.
Beautiful Sacrifice isn't meant to be a history/culture lesson on the Maya and, for that reason, I'm not sure it
is entirely successful. I imagine it's meant to be a romance/suspense story, but that certainly
isn't what stood out for this reader.
Lina Taylor is a part-Maya woman from an important family who is now an American academic.
Former ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officer Hunter Johnston occasionally attends her classes
and works in the security business in the US and Mexico.
When Hunter needs someone to verify some ancient Mayan artifacts that his former colleague has unearthed as part of a drug shipment, he goes to Lina. He only has photographs to work from; the artifacts have been stolen again, and his friend is getting the blame (although the friend is entirely innocent). Lina and Hunter look into the matter, and we are drawn into Lina's world--her former teacher who now fancies her, her archaeological-dig-obsessed father, Philip, her antiquities-trader mother, Celia--and the family's position as descendants of Maya royalty.
But some bad people seem to be following them and attempting to kidnap Lina, and there is a worrying link between the artifacts, various dodgy characters and Lina's heritage.
The power of this story lies in its cultural and historical setting. I don't know what links the author has with Mexico and the Yucatan in particular, but she does an excellent job of writing about the history, culture, language, traditions and artwork--so much so that I found myself doing some further research
and looking up pictures of the sorts of artifacts she describes. She writes about these pieces in such a warm, understanding way that it opened my eyes to this new (to me) form of art.
The problem is, that probably isn't the point of the story. There's a fairly sketchy romance in there (man and woman thrown together find they are a good match) and
a whodunnit aspect (why are people being killed? where did the artifacts go? what is the link with Lina's home?), but these two aspects, which I assume should
be in the fore, fade into the background of the cultural setting of this story. I barely cared what happened at the end, especially as I found many of the events not at all convincing and a bit too coincidental (although my lack of knowledge of the area/culture might be contributing to this sense of disbelief). Be that as it may, I felt as if the author were so in love with the history/art
of her story that she struggled to put her full concentration on the plot and romance points.
Beautiful Sacrifice is a good read which builds to a conclusion (albeit a rather hard-to-believe one), and the author's writing style
is strong, with lyrical descriptions and the odd flash of humor in dialogue. However, I think that the main success of the book
is not in plot/character but in various inanimate objects made of obsidian, pottery or just a bundle of rags.