The Dark Virgin


523 pages
ISBN 0-00-255746-0
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Norman Cheadle

Norman Cheadle is a professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern
Languages and Literatures, Laurentian University.


This well-researched historical novel recounts in broad strokes the
Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire. An epilogue succinctly summarizes
the historical facts, while an author’s note explains the author’s
methodology (i.e., what is invented and what isn’t).

Recorded history provides the truly awesome plot and most of the
characters, including the audacious Hernбn Cortés; his astute native
translator, adviser, and consort, Doсa Marina; and the ineffectual
emperor, Moctezuma. Following Georg Lukбcs’s precept, Ross invents a
“middling” character whose perspective mediates historical events.
The mystically inclined Pitoque is a native of Cholula (a vassal city of
the Aztecs), a traveling merchant, and a part-time Aztec spy gifted in
languages. This bundle of heterogeneous qualities puts Pitoque at the
centre of unfolding events; he even discovers the native Virgen de
Guadalupe just as Tenochtitlбn falls to the Spanish. More problematic,
however, is that Pitoque and his family seem awfully like a contemporary
Canadian middle-class nuclear family (they’d vote Liberal). And
Pitoque has a cozy relationship with Azotl, an éminence grise who
resembles a certain alien from Star Wars.

While Ross handles the conflict between two violent empires with
evenhanded political correctness—notwithstanding the formulaic
treatment of Cortés, most Spaniards, and Marina—the characters
Pitoque and Azotl seem an apology for the very principle of empire; both
work diligently for its maintenance. That said, the irresistible
apocalyptic drama of the Conquest is successfully conveyed in taut,
accessible prose.


Ross, Oakland., “The Dark Virgin,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,