War God by Graham Hancock – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

War God

Bane of Kings writes a review of the historical fantasy novel War God by Graham Hancock, published by Coronet.

“An epic book that details the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. Hancock’s prose is strong and the story encompasses a vast scale, but ultimately there are some elements that let the book down.” ~The Founding Fields

I went into War God not really knowing what to expect. I’d heard of Graham Hancock before, but this was the first time I’d come across any of his fiction. I also went into the book expecting historical fiction, but it isn’t long before it comes clear that this viewpoint of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico is in fact historical fantasy, not historical fiction. The author takes you on an epic tour of events giving you perspectives from multiple viewpoints, allowing for an enthralling story that will keep you reading. But it isn’t perfect – there are some issues that I had with War God which I shall touch on later in this review.

A young girl called Tozi stands at the bottom of a pyramid, waiting to be led to the top where her heart will be cut out…

Pepillo, a Spanish orphan who serves a sadistic Dominican friar, is aboard the Spanish fleet as it sails towards Mexico…

This is the epic story of the clash of two empires, two armies and two gods of war. Five hundred desperate adventurers are about to pit themselves against the most brutal armies of the ancient Americas, armies hundreds of thousands strong.

This is a war of gods and men. Dark powers that work behind the scenes of history show their hand as the prophecy of the return of Quetzalcoatl is fulfilled with the arrival of Cortes. The Aztec ruler Moctezuma fights to maintain the demands of the war god Huitzilopochtli for human sacrifice. The Spanish Inquisition is planning an even greater blood-letting.

Caught up in the headlong collision between two gods of war are Tozi, Pepillo and the beautiful sex slave Malinal whose hatred of Moctezuma runs so deep she will sell out her own land and people to destroy him.

The blurb itself is epic, and that word really nails the description of the book. It’s epic. War God certainly isn’t light reading, coming in at over six hundred pages in the hardback version that I was sent for review. The characters are varied, and the book boasts such a large amount of cast that the writer has had to include a dramatis personae at the end of the book in order to inform the reader of their roles. I’m a bit torn on the needs of dramatis personaes myself – whilst they’re helpful for checking up on characters and reminding readers what role they play – shouldn’t a good book be able to make you remember them without needing one? Sure, A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin had a massive list of characters – but the fact that they were so well crafted meant that I never had to use it for reference once. The same cannot be said with War God, for the characters, whilst are strong in certain elements, are let down in others.

War GodTozi, Malinal, Cortes and others are all enjoyable characters, but they’re just not as memorable as I’d like them to be. I kept wondering who these people were – their voices were never really distinctive enough to stand out. It isn’t helped by the fact that the book is difficult to read in places, and the chapters themselves are quite short – normally this works in a thriller, but a thriller War God is not. It’s Historical Fantasy. Whilst there are some battle sequences and moments that are quicker paced, it only really works if the whole novel is a non-stop ride, and War God certainly isn’t that. It starts slow, and takes a while to get going. The plotlines themselves are far too predictable and as a result, Hancock is forced to move this book into an historical fantasy setting to make the book even more interesting, like the case with Conn Iggulden’s epic Rome series, of which I’ve read the first two volumes of. Only the difference is that whilst Iggulden didn’t need to change history to make it more unpredictable, it was indeed needed here.

The time period itself however is what makes this book compelling, allowing for an interesting scenario. As I’ve never read a book about the Aztec Conquest of Mexico before this book was engrossing and when Hancock does stick to the facts, it’s clear that he knows his history, having written numerous books in the past. The action sequences delivered here are well written, bloody and no-holds barred. I’ve mentioned Game of Thrones earlier in this review and I’m going to bring it up again, this book has a similar level of gore and violence, allowing for a dark outlook that just shows how grim this period of history was. He’s shed a light onto a period of history that not many people will know much about and it’s refreshing to read a tale that does not focus on characters from either a British or American perspective. It’s not a bad book despite the negatives that I’ve had to say – and I’m pretty sure that you’ll find something to enjoy here if you’re a fan of either historical fiction or historical fantasy – or both, so this’ll be one that you shouldn’t pass up.

VERDICT: 3/5

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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