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In the Courts of the Sun: The Sacrifice Game    by Brian d'Amato order for
In the Courts of the Sun
by Brian d'Amato
Order:  USA  Can
Dutton, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This peripatetic near-future SF thriller begins with a cliffhanger - or rather a year 664 Mayan-pyramid-hanger. Brian D'Amato hooks readers fast and then reels them in steadily as he moves back and forth in time, showing how his hero got himself into such a lethal situation - and what happens afterwards. The author begins his novel with time travel, while telling us that it's impossible - in the H. G. Wells Time Machine manner that is. D'Amato's scientists send a replica of an individual's consciousness back in time, using electro-magnetism (not being a physicist, I'm happy to suspend disbelief). Of course, Murphy has his part to play - when something can go wrong, it does ...

As most readers will have heard by now from media sources, the ancient Mayans predicted that on December 21, 2012, 'the current cycle of Mayan time comes to an end.' Doomsday? Who knows? D'Amato's modern story begins in 2012 with Jed DeLanda (born in Guatemala of Mayan descent). Jed's personal history is dark - he blames himself (because of incautious words spoken to a nun while sick with fever) for the deaths of his parents and brothers in 1982, during the government's decades of horrific ethnic cleansing against the Maya. Not surprisingly, this tragedy left Jed (who also has haemophilia) with emotional development issues.

As a child, Jed was taught the Mayan sacrifice game - which he says 'is like a combination of a map, an abacus, and a perpetual calendar' - by his sun adder mother, including 'a special way to press intuition into service' to predict future events. After a Mormon refugee-adoption program sent him to Utah, it was discovered that Jed was a calendrical savant, and his knowledge of the sacrifice game brought him to the attention of game theorist Professor Taro Hyaku at Yale. Jed eventually broke with Taro in his 'angry Pan-Maya Coalition phase'. He subsequently used the game to research investments and made a mint.

Jed's life begins to change after he learns of a research team's reading of the Mayan Codex - he needs to see it for himself. Jed reconnects with Taro (now working for the Warren Group) and finds they've programmed a computer, LEON, to play the sacrifice game. After Taro sends him to his smart and attractive big boss, Marena Park, Jed predicts a catastrophe at a location that's an American icon. He, Marena, and her son Max bond after barely escaping that disaster themselves. Then Jed joins Warren Group researchers in Central America, working to predict and prevent an anticipated dire event on December 21st.

Which is what leads Jed to sharing consciousness with ballplayer Chacal in the year 664, and embarking on a series of past adventures that take him from Central America to what is now Mexico City and the site of Teotihuacán, and bring to mind Mel Gibson's 2006 movie Apocalypto. Jed's motive? He tells us, 'I wanted my beaten, maimed, raped, infected, abandoned, and all-but deceased culture back'. In addition to just being there, his objective is to find out how to play the sacrifice game at a higher level and send that information to his future self via his past corpse's burial site.

In the Courts of the Sun, which includes the author's own illustrations in Mayanesque style, has it all - apocalyptic events; dizzying action and adventure in the past and the present; insights into fascinating cultures (and what might have led to their downfall); and even strands of romance. By the end of this first book, Jed knows what he has to do - but will he do it? Fans will have to continue reading Brian D'Amato's outstanding Sacrifice Game trilogy to find out. Whether you enjoy thrillers, science fiction or end times novels, you don't want to miss this one!

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