The Well of Sacrifice

by Chris Eboch

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The Well of Sacrifice by Chris Eboch The Well of Sacrifice is one of very few novels set in the Mayan empire. It's about a girl who lives in a large Mayan city at the height of Mayan civilization. We know today, from archaeological excavations and studies, that the great Mayan cities were suddenly abandoned and fell into ruin sometime around the ninth century. But Eveningstar Macaw, the fictional Mayan girl who narrates this novel, doesn't know her city is on the verge of disaster.

The novel offers a thorough, well-researched look at almost every aspect of Mayan culture. Scenes illustrate Mayan storytelling, celebrations, ball games, sacrificial practices, the Maya calendar system, women's work like grinding corn, weaving cloth and gathering medicinal herbs, and more. Because of this, much of the first third of this novel may move too slowly for some readers. The rest of the novel is consistently exciting and suspenseful, though, as Eveningstar and her family rise in importance and a jealous high priest uses his power to threaten them.

Eveningstar, eleven at the beginning of the novel and fourteen at the end, is an intelligent, courageous girl. Readers can identify with her, even though many of her people's customs seem extremely strange by modern standards. The novel includes some brief scenes of gruesome sacrifices and bloodletting practices, but these are depicted in a way that helps readers understand their meaning to the Mayan people without dwelling at length on their gory nature. The black-and-white illustrations by Bryn Barnard are so beautiful that some readers will be tempted to skim through The Well of Sacrifice and look at them all before settling down to read. (1999; 236 pages)

More about The Well of Sacrifice at Powell's Books or

Interview with author Chris Eboch

Other historical novels for teens set in South America:

The Captive by Scott O'Dell (1979), about a young Jesuit seminarian who is the only survivor of a shipwreck in the New World and is taken in by the Maya, who believe him to be a god; #1 in the Seven Serpents trilogy. More info

The Goldsmith’s Daughter by Tanya Landman (2008), about an Aztec girl at the time of the invasion of the conquistadors and the fall of the Aztec empire. More info

Indio by Sherry Garland (1995), about an Indio girl captured by conquistadors on her wedding day and forced to work as a slave in a silver mine. More info

Nonfiction for teens and preteens about the ancient Maya:

Empire of the Ancient Maya by Jill Rubalcaba (2009). More info

Life Among the Maya by Chris Eboch (2005). More info

The Ancient Maya by Lila Perl (2005). More info


Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya at the National Gallery of Art website

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