“Before the Ruins” by James Hohenbary

There are a couple of creative and interesting ideas in the conception of this story. First, it takes the “Game of Thrones” style of political conflict and places it in the society of Southwest American natives in the pre-Columbian era. The same political maneuvering, the same making and breaking of alliances, the same concerns about trust and fear and envy, leading to misunderstanding and tragedy. Which just goes to show that human nature hasn’t changed much, because it all works just as well here as it does in a medieval setting or in present-day politics.

The second device is the introduction of a good, old-fashioned European vampire into the mix. The terror he instills creates that bit of extra conflict to push the teetering society over the edge, and mayhem ensues.

Hohenbary has done his research, and his descriptions of clothing, architecture and the trappings of the society are realistic sounding and evocative. He is also very careful to elaborate the discussions and personality conflicts and misunderstandings that create the conflict.

And there lies the problem. The scope of the conflict takes in too many tribes, too many leaders, too big a supporting cast and for the first part of the book no clear main character to attract our sympathy and concern. It even looks for a while as if the vampire is going to be the main character. Although that would be an interesting experiment, he is hardly the type of person whose survival becomes important to us.

While I believe that Mr. Hohenbary has carefully thought through the complex web of antagonisms in the story, I could not keep the characters, their friends and their foes straight, and none of them were presented in a way that made me care about them. If they were, that was a sure sign they would soon be killed off.

I felt sort of like a stranger watching a baseball game, not sure exactly what was going on, and not really invested in either team.

This story paints a clear and dire picture of the complexity of societies in conflict, which has its echoes in the present-day political situation.

Recommended for fans of Game of Thrones and other political dramas who are more entertained by the game than by the characters that play it.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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