This was very different for a Jeff Wheeler book — aside from the memoir I read about his writing style, this is the only one (that I’ve read anyway, and I think I’ve read most of his books) that isn’t high fantasy. I guess this would be considered urban fantasy, though it takes awhile for the fantasy elements to come in.
The story follows Roth, a middle aged bestselling author (I have to assume Wheeler identified with him, as some of the things Roth said about his own experiences sounds like something I assume is true of Wheeler himself), and his family: his wife Serena, and their kids, Suki, and twins Bryant and Lucas. Family friends, the Beasleys, invite them to Cozumel, Mexico for Christmas, to an off grid resort, all expenses paid. They agree, but almost as soon as they arrive, at least Suki and then a few of the others begin to get a “weird vibe,” that something is wrong. One of the Beasley boys breaks one of the twins’ noses, and Serena, a nurse, uses this as a pretext to try to take them to a hospital–just to see if they are allowed to leave. As they attempt this, the little Beasley girl, Jane Louise, sneaks into their van and begs them to take her with them, and says that if they don’t flee, they’ll die. Roth leads them into the jungle, even though he has no idea what he’s doing… and unfortunately, Serena is a Type 1 diabetic, and she left her insulin behind.
Meanwhile, the story shows us what’s going on behind the scenes: Jacob, a Mayan Jaguar priest (who literally shapeshifts into a Jaguar) seeks vengeance for how the European explorers treated his people hundreds of years before. The Beasleys, a very athletic family, was aware that they were inviting Roth’s family to an ancient match to the death. The winners will be spared when one day the Mayans take over the Western world, as they fully intend to do, and they will also inherit all the property of the losers. The losers will be sacrificed by having their hearts cut out while they are still living.
The story was easy to follow, well-paced, and an intriguing concept. I didn’t for some reason connect with the characters as much as I would have liked, though, which is why I only gave it four stars. One thing I loved about it was how Wheeler managed to subtly weave in Christian values without being preachy at all, though.
My rating: ****
Sexual content: none
Violence: it’s not actually in there, but there’s some graphic threats
Political content: none