Black Triangle, by Patrick Davis
Usually when I do a book review I know the author- at least as an online friend. This is especially the case with this author who actually is married to my youngest sister. I respect him as a good brother in the Lord, exemplary in his life of faith. And a true friend. And I found out that he is an exceptional writer. Ordinarily I don’t read novels (to my loss). But I finally got around to reading his at least twice (maybe also in the distant past). That this is historical fiction helped and that it touched on the explorations and conquest of Spain into the new world caught my attention since I was once an avid reader of that part of early American history.
The book has much to commend. Yes, it is very well written. A movie could easily be made out of it, not having to add between the lines, because the book is quite detailed. I think for some readers that could get a bit daunting since so many asides are given. But the thrust of the narrative I think is sufficient to make up for that. Nevertheless I counted it a good exercise in making me a better reader. I also found myself at a loss over some of the language, a good example being nautical terms and phraseology. Perhaps the book could have provided a glossary or footnotes. However that would break up the flow of reading. Probably best that it didn’t. My reading in such places reminded me of some of my Bible reading in which even to this day I’m more or less dense, for example the layout of the temple and priestly practice. I found that the essence of the story was not missed by simply reading on, trying to understand as much as possible what I was unsure of. This was not throughout the entire book, but here and there, military terms and phraseology being perhaps the other prime example. Of course one does have recourse to the Internet. Still I do not see this as a major issue in reading the book. And in fact I counted it as a good education. There is no doubt that the author spent considerable time in research as is the case in many novels, and in fact, he told me that was the case.
Now to the story itself. The focus is on one Hernandez Pizzaro (who is a historical figure) and his venture in tearing himself away from his home in Spain on the farm against his parents’ wishes under the influence of his Uncle, Captain Martinez Pizzaro, in pursuit of “the Grand Pizarro Military Tradition.” And we find that he’s in pursuit of something more which no matter how many times he may achieve it, could never be satisfied. A black cloud of guilt hung over him since at the age of nine he had watched his eight year old brother, Francisco drown, Hernando unable to swim himself so that all he could do at the time was to run to his father. He vowed to his dead brother never to let that happen again, death being preferable to that. So we find a troubled young man with great promise, ability and heart, but unable to do what was expected in the very thing he excelled in due to this darkness with which he struggled most any and every day.
The gospel is interestingly and adeptly woven into the story and from within and many would say -the author included- in spite of a Roman Catholic Church religious perspective. The story showed that the gospel is powerful enough to penetrate even through a religion whose ritual is often without a living faith, yet in itself carries something of the seeds of that faith, whatever errors may be present (for the author –and myself– transubstantiation being one such belief: the teaching that the bread and wine become the actual physical/material body and blood of our Lord).
Romance is in the story as well as Hernandez finds that he and Nahuaxica, the daughter of an Aztec high priest share a strong mutual attraction. That along with some good, lasting friendships is a pleasant part of what is often a less than pleasant experience, graphically told throughout the book: the aspect of conquest by the Spaniards in their exploration of the New World, what they called New Spain (Cuba) and beyond. What also stood out to me, encouraging as well as instructive was how Hernandez and another man of the military expedition come to respect each other with some degree of friendship whereas once they were nearly enemies.
In the story two other historical figures are prominent, the leader of the Spanish military expedition, Captain Hernando Cortes and Montezuma, ruler of the Aztecs. The whole idea of claiming the new world for Spain as well as bringing Christianity and the gospel to “the heathen” in a peace backed by the edge of a sword, not to mention a penchant especially on the part of some (sea Captain Gonzalo Serrao being the prime example in the story of that) for material wealth which the Aztecs had in abundance in their gold- makes one cringe. The reality of what the Aztecs did in regularly sacrificing humans to all kinds of gods on the top of grand pyramids, something practiced by other peoples in that land as well, points to the idea of something of the depravity and evil the Spaniards were facing, not to gloss over their own evil.
War is brutal, awful and nothing to glorify in and of itself, as Hernando Pizzaro soon found out. How he is at long at last even in the midst of that set free from his deep darkness of guilt is fascinating. And in the twist and turns of a narrative that is not predictable at all. The way the story is told, one almost feels like they’ve been a part of it. What I see over and over again is grace, grace and more of God’s grace in spite of what the “Christians” were doing. And in a context which reminds us of the need to try to understand in full the complete historical narrative insofar as that’s possible. There is no doubt that for all the evil the Spanish did in their military expedition against the Aztec nation, they were to stop arguably a greater evil, the sacrifice of humans to strengthen and appease “gods”- young and old humans alike- some from their own people, many from other peoples of their land. A zeal for tearing down the idols with a hate for the deplorable practice is prominent, seen in Captain Cortes himself.
Again the gospel, the power of God for salvation is wonderfully woven into the story. I also identified with what Hernandez Pizzaro did and what he needed to do instead, which the gospel wonderfully set him free to do, which actually spoke powerfully to me. Indeed Hernando Pizzaro’s spiritual journey is fascinating and so true to life.
I found reading the book an enriching experience. As one of the best reads, one is wise to read it slowly and thoughtfully. There are thirty-seven chapters, some nice breaks to gather one’s thoughts. But the story compels one to keep reading. So I commend this book as worthy in itself. I am grateful to have read it. Definitely enjoyable and so much more.