Uncategorized: at road's end book review historical fiction J.A. Beard mesoamerican history zoe Saadia
by J.A. Beard
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Years ago during a family trip to Arizona, I had an opportunity to visit some ruins associated with the ancient cliff-dwelling native Anasazi peoples of the southwest. Though the ruins had been abandoned for centuries, these artifacts of the once-thriving culture made me curious about these people and their lives. In At Road’s End, Zoe Saadia explores the intersection of this culture with other regional powers. After reading it, I feel that I have better insight into how the ancient peoples of the Southwest lived. I think, in the end, that’s one of the best things a piece of historical fiction can accomplish.
The plot moves along at a comfortable pace. There’s a good interspersing of more leisurely character development scenes, action, and even a bit of romance. Though the plot is focused on a small number of characters, it serves as a microcosm of some of the major trends affecting the Natives of the Southwest. The book expertly illuminates the complex nature of their societies and, to a lesser extent, their neighbors to the south.
The use of an outsider main character, a warrior escorting traders, allows an exploration of the historical culture in a natural way. The author’s respect for the material and her research is obvious in her attention to both major and minor details. The depth of historical information never becomes overwhelming, nor does it come off as didactic. Given how often a lack of restraint can undermine historical fiction works, I was rather pleased at how well the author managed this.
The arrogance of the main character, though expected given his background, makes him not the most immediately likable lead, but he’s intriguing and does have a solid character arc. The relative depth of character development on the other characters is not as strong, but all major secondary characters still come as realistic and not mere plot props.