What’s Four Hundred Rabbits all about?:
Four Hundred Rabbits tells the story of a midwinter festival to honour the Aztec gods in which a young man is drugged. As our protagonist investigates, we find out exactly what happened to him and why.
What did I think?:
Once again with my Short Stories Challenge, I’ve been introduced to an author that I’ve never heard of before and I love it for that! Simon Levack is a British author of historical mystery novels that so far, all feature the same character, Yaotl who is a slave in in Precolombian Mexico with the Aztec people. Almost immediately, I appreciated the detail that has gone into Four Hundred Rabbits and in it’s execution, it very much reminded me of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom (which I have fallen woefully behind on). Generally, I thought it was a decent enough tale and it was obvious that the author had created the plot meticulously however it didn’t blow me away. It was enjoyable but unfortunately, only okay in my opinion.
Our protagonist for the story is the same character featured in the author’s novels, a slave called Yaotl who used to be in the priesthood but was expelled and turned quite heavily to drink before he became apprenticed as a slave. In Four Hundred Rabbits, he is brought up before his master, Lord Feathered In Black and his assistance is demanded. In the corner lies the body of Black’s great-nephew, Heron in a drugged stupor. As Yaotl has had a lot of experience with different plants/drugs through his studies as a priest, Black wants him to investigate the incident and find the culprit so that he can be punished. We are taken to a world of strange religious rituals, where four hundred men compete to drink sacred wine through a hollow straw and it is by these means that Yaotl believes Heron has been poisoned. Why was he attacked in this way? Yaotl must find out before his master’s impatience runs out or before he becomes a target himself.
First of all, I really loved how unique this story felt, especially in comparison to every other tale in this collection. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be taken to another country, another culture and another point in time that is so vastly different from our contemporary world with different beliefs and ideals. I mentioned Shardlake earlier and the way Yaotl goes about his business of attempting to find the perp really reminded me of Matthew’s own investigations in the Sansom novels of King Henry VIII’s England. I was fascinated by how all the pieces of the puzzle came together although I still found it a bit difficult to realise the exact motives of our culprit. Although the writing was excellent, something didn’t fully connect with me unfortunately. Perhaps I was interested in Yaotl himself as a character and was far more intrigued about why he had been expelled from the priesthood rather than a young (rather obnoxious) young man being drugged during a festival. Maybe Yaotl is explored further in Levack’s novels and I’d certainly be curious enough to give them a try.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: 20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.