Human sacrifice, communities eaten from within, a vast mind blazing under the mud of Lake Titicaca; the rise and fall of empires cruel and kind.
In the Andes of a thousand years ago, the Huari empire is sick. Its communities are being eaten from within by a plague, a contagion that is not of the body but of something far deeper, a plague that has taken their collective spirit. Rooting out this parasite is a task that is laid upon Q’ilyasisa, a young woman from an obscure little village on the forgotten borders of the Huari empire. This impossible mission is imposed on her by a vast mind, a sentience that has ambitions to shape all human life. Her response to this entails confrontations on sacrificial pyramids, long journeys through the Amazonian jungle and the establishment of not just one but two new empires. Her legacy shapes future Andean civilisation until the arrival of the Spanish.
“Dark Sun, Bright Moon” explores the unique Andean metaphysic: not one of gods and heavens, but a cosmology developed over millennia of isolation, developed over generations by its practitioners but at constant war with the various state religions. It has been systematised from current beliefs, but is essentially authentic to them. As described in the book, therefore, this cosmology is a concrete thing, neither magic nor religion but a technology with a logic of its own that drives the story line. However, this is above all an adventure story in which credible people undertake rational if desperate acts in the face of extreme threat.
Dark Sun, Bright Moon is illustrated with over a hundred images (B&W, engravings and maps) and consists of around 170,000 words set in 40 chapters and an appendix, which last gives extensive background material. The author knows modern Peru very well, and has visited all of the physical sites that are described in the book.
There are books where you can just open them up and completely delve in. Where the act of reading is almost mindless (though clearly not, because you do absorb the story.) And then there are books such as Dark Sun, Bright Moon that force you to not only pay attention but to truly think throughout the entire journey. As someone who generally likes historical fiction, none of my past reading or even knowledge of history prepared me for undertaking this book. This is a book that needs time and dedication invested into it, because it features the belief systems of a civilization that is thousands of years old and yet, is completely foreign to anything I’ve been exposed to in my lifetime.
The belief of these people is complex and yet, you’ll find they shared some common beliefs (though still different) from other ancient civilizations. I know that may sound like something that might scare you off, but as I saw suggested by another reviewer, the way to comprehending the story at hand is by taking advantage of the appendix at the back of the book. By reading this first (or more accurately about 5% in), I found that I was able to not only truly appreciate what they were talking about, but I actually had a better understanding, as opposed to just kind of winging it and trying to guess. Another thing this book offers is a wide range of illustrations that help you form a more accurate idea of not only the setting, but also the people who are in this book. I found the illustrations to be very helpful in helping me to develop the story in my own mind, which only helped to aid in making it easier for me to stay invested in the book, should I find myself confused or in need of refreshing my take on what the appendix entails.
At the heart of the story there is Q’ilyasisa, who initially serves as what we might more commonly recognize as the savior of her people. As one of their beliefs closely resembles that of reincarnation, (but not exactly, as they don’t believe the soul is reincarnated) Q’ilyasisa finds herself to be impertinent in not only trying to defeat the “contagion” that has infected the Huari, but also helping their civilization to grow into newer and eventually better empires. Her story and influence over the ancient Peruvian culture is an amazing interesting tale of this culture that remained utterly isolated from the rest of the world for centuries.
The book gives insight into the culture that eventually became the Incan empire and for me, it was a new experience. For, even though I’m a history buff and I am from the U.S., none of my history classes ever delved deeply into these ancient empires, let alone the roots of the civilizations that existed long before them. I find myself extremely intrigued by the culture and it makes me curious if there are other civilizations that had these diverse beliefs and cultures that were never highlighted as much as the major ones (i.e. Ancient Egypt, Mayans, etc.)
I greatly enjoyed this book and recommend it to any reader who has the time and patience to dedicate to familiarizing yourself with this culture and the references. It’s not something that would take days of investigating, merely by reading the appendix before beginning the story will assist you in understanding the mindset of the people and their views. Either way, I highly recommend this book and I can’t wait to see what else I can learn about the ancient Peruvian civilizations.
Reviewer’s note: I received this book in exchange for an honest review.