The Dark Virgin: A novel of Mexico


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Year: HarperCollins Canada, 2001
Published in: English, Spanish, Italian
Synopsis: The Dark Virgin is a tale of Pitoque, a traveling in the Aztec empire of sixteenth-century Mexico. Pitoque is a reluctant spy for the ruler Moctezuma, who is desperate to discover the truth about the strange reports of beings who look like men but who are taller, paler, and rank in odour. Are these creatures the envoys of the man-god Quetzalcoatl? Pitoque can't be sure, but little does he suspect that arrival of Hernán Cortés, Spanish conquistador, will change the course of his country's history forever.
Reviews: "Ross does for Cortés and the Aztecs what James Clavell did for Samurai in Shogun." Hot Type, CDC Newsworld
"A triumph...a fabulous first novel." The Ottawa Citizen
"The Dark Virgin is a rattlingly good read that, in its best parts, shows its author to be something more than a storyteller, a difficult-to-categorize thinker with a deep understanding of cultures at a distance from his own." The Globe and Mail
"Ross is one of a disappearing breed of Canadian novelists who put the reader first. i came away feeling he had made up this dazzling story just for me." Ottawa Citizen
"...a sweeping account...exciting and affecting: Ross is sensitive to the exigencies of fate and outraged by the injustices of history." National Post
"It's about time somebody came along and wrote a great conquest-of-Mexico novel." Toronto Star
Excerpt: That night and for many nights after, the Spaniards and even the hated Tlaxcalans were lodged in the vast palace of Axayácatl. The building was an endless maze of private rooms and antechambers, of cool stone courtyards, cotton canopies, and shimmering halls, of sumptuous beds spread with the finest eiderdowns. The strange beasts known as horses were stabled in makeshift shelters, and watered and given plentiful supplies of dried field grass, specially acquired for this purpose, as requested by the teules.
Each night, a great banquet was celebrated in honor of these exotic visitors. They were served every imaginable delicacy — venison and dog, partridge, duck, iguana. Salads of thistles and cactus flowers were placed before them, and ingenious stews combining the most exquisite flavors — newts and tadpoles, waterfly eggs, salamanders and eels, agave worms, and lake scum, all blended in a purée of tomatoes with just a hint of chili spice. Drinks of steaming chocolate and honey were provided and continually replenished. Great ceramic jugs brimmed with pulque. Musicians played the most haunting music in their repertoire, and poets recited verses they had specially composed. When the meals were finished, tobacco was brought out, mixed with resin of liquidambar and presented in the finest reed pipes. Dwarfs and tumblers performed.
Cortés and his soldiers were shown every comfort and courtesy. Women were sent to bear them chrysanthemum water for their baths. Walking in procession, their feet anointed with incense of copal and dyed a heavenly blue, these Aztec women carried the sweet water in painted gourds. They swished across the cool stone floors. They sang across the night. In this way — with flutes, soft beds, and languorous voices — the world nudged up against its end.