For anyone with only a hazy knowledge of the fall of the Aztec Empire, Anita Mason's ambitious new novel will come as something of a revelation. At the heart of the story are Cortes's two translators: Geronimo de Aguilar, a shipwrecked Spaniard who lived for eight years with the Mayans as a slave, and Dona Marina, Cortes's lover.
The first half of the book, narrated by Geronimo, is a low-key affair, but once Moctezuma arrives on the scene, resplendent in his golden sandals, the novel grows in stature.
Mason's dialogue can veer towards the historicalese - "His name is Bartolome, and he will die tonight" - but her battle scenes are dynamic and powerfully drawn.
Towards the end , Mason returns to Geronimo's story - a man not sure if he wants to return to his lost Spanish self.