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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Eagle's Throne

Carlos Fuentes

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To purchase The Eagle's Throne

Title: The Eagle's Throne
Author: Carlos Fuentes
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 336 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Eagle's Throne - US
La silla del Aguila - US
The Eagle's Throne - UK
The Eagle's Throne - Canada
The Eagle's Throne - India
Le Siège de l'Aigle - France
La Silla del Águila - España
  • Spanish title: La silla del Aguila
  • Translated by Kristina Cordero

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Our Assessment:

B : odd approach, but some decent political intrigue

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor B- 20/6/2006 Yvonne Zipp
Entertainment Weekly C 12/5/2006 Troy Patterson
Foreign Policy . 3-4/2004 C. Domínguez Michael
The Guardian . 11/3/2006 Maya Jaggi
The Independent . 17/3/2006 Jason Wilson
The LA Times B 18/6/2006 Salvador Plascencia
The NY Times Book Rev. A 21/5/2006 Terrence Rafferty
San Francisco Chronicle . 28/5/2006 Alan Cheuse
The Spectator . 11/2/2006 Francis King
TLS . 10/3/2006 Michael Kerrigan
The Washington Post . 18/6/2006 Francisco Goldman

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus

  From the Reviews:
  • "Before the book is over, at least six characters will be dead, and enough aphorisms will be spouted to fill a Mexican Bartlett's Quotations. (...) The Eagle's Throne possesses some brilliant political satire, but it's not always a satisfying read. The first half of the novel is slow going, with Fuentes reheating the same analogies over and over and indulging in some seriously overwrought mash notes. But once the double-crosses and bodies start piling up, the novel will make even a seasoned thriller-reader gasp." - Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

  • "(I)t never comes to resemble a satisfying book." - Troy Patterson, Entertainment Weekly

  • "The Eagle's Chair is far from a prophetic novel, nor does it explain the present. Fuentes is likely aware that this story could occur in 2004, 1972, 1959, or 1934 -- all times of conflict and turbulence in Mexican politics. The author's message is as inaccurate as it is fatalistic: A country governed by very ancient mythologies, Mexico is congenitally incapable of generating a democratic society, and the uses, abuses, and customs of the 71-year PRI regime will forever taint the nation's future, like an oil spill. As readers can conclude by the end of The Eagle's Chair, apparently only Mexico's children are free of the original sin of corruption. This thesis, more anthropological than literary, is quite old, as old as Fuentes's works, and would be of literary interest only if The Eagle's Chair were a reasonable projection of Mexican history. But it is not." - Christopher Domínguez Michael, Foreign Policy

  • "An initially rather static plot gathers pace with the emergence of a love child with Down's syndrome locked away in an asylum; a gay tryst; a coup plot; a corruption scandal; and an old ex-president who harbours a secret crucial to the succession." - Maya Jaggi, The Guardian

  • "This essayistic streak is the best part of the novel. (...) The novel could be shorter and Fuentes could explain less, but it guides us into the political jungle with wit and sometimes bite." - Jason Wilson, The Independent

  • "The story is propelled by love affairs, betrayals and a slew of double identities. As such, it is a novel of intrigue and suspense whose overblown characters teeter at the edge of satire. The actors of this novel do not aspire to be nuanced and rounded; instead, they want to reflect the corrosive effects that a maligned political system has on its players. This is not a novel that values its protagonists, but one that seeks to explore the culture of the presidential palace. The inhabitants of The Eagle's Throne are archetypes who surrender depth to serve a plot that twists and turns at breakneck speed. Once the reader concedes to that velocity, the novel becomes a farcical page-turner that delights in the most improbable of discoveries while skewering the ruling oligarchy." - Salvador Plascencia, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(T)he most wickedly entertaining novel of Fuentes's career (.....) That's the great joke of this brilliant political novel: Fuentes's sententious movers and shakers are so busy positioning themselves and trying to figure out where everyone else is in this hall of mirrors that they never quite see themselves." - Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Fuentes' scathing novel about national politics and presidential succession seems destined to become a handbook for the neophyte Latin American politician. North American politicos will ignore it at their peril, although The Eagle's Throne makes an Anglo novel about the presidency like Advise and Consent read like something written on a doily by Emily Post." - Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The Eagle's Throne is not the novel to come to for fully realized characters or for emotion vividly captured; the weaknesses of Fuentes's approach are all too evident. But it has its strengths too, and these become increasingly apparent as the narrative unfolds and momentum builds. The reader comes to accept an unabashedly artificial yet still ingenious fiction on its own terms. And not just as a dramatized debate, fascinating as it is in the insights it offers: "themes" live for Fuentes as characters might for another novelist." - Michael Kerrigan, Times Literary Supplement

  • "In The Eagle's Throne, he portrays and dissects the tragicomedy of Mexican political culture with an air of extraordinary authority and remorseless humor. (...) Other sources of this book's considerable pleasures are Fuentes's characteristic dazzling, razor-sharp, intellectual flights. In his vast and multi-faceted oeuvre, this may be a minor work, but it provides a feast of political insight, aphorisms and maxims, in the spirit of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu's The Art of War" - Francisco Goldman, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Eagle's Throne is set in the future -- 2020 -- and yet is almost defiantly old-fashioned. The premise leading to the unusual approach Fuentes has chosen is that the Mexican President has ticked off the Americans, with dire results:

We woke up on January 2 with our oil, our gas, and our principles intact, but with out communications systems cut off from the rest of the world. The United States, alleging a glitch in the satellite communications system that they so kindly allow us to use, has left us with no faxes, no e-mail, no grid, and no telephone service.
       It's a completely unbelievable premise, but it'll do. And what do the characters in the novel -- Mexico's ruling elite -- do in this situation ? They write each other letters. Yes, The Eagle's Throne is a letter-novel in the best tradition of, say, Choderlos de Laclos -- and, like Dangerous Liaisons, it is filled with intrigue and infighting.
       Almost more unbelievable than the premise which sets them all letter-writing in the first place are, in fact, the letters themselves: it's hard to believe that after almost two decades in which 'texting' and 'Instant Messaging' have become (surely) near-ubiquitous that these are the sort of missives and declarations people would write. The letters are like 18th and 19th century correspondence, going on in the most leisurely and expansive manner about all and sundry. It's hard to imagine anyone would still have the patience to write such things. And, of course, it's hard to imagine anyone would set down such incriminating evidence (as a lot of it is) in black on white, either.
       The advantage of the approach, of course, is that it offers the (many) characters' perspectives, just as they want to present themselves. Which doesn't mean they don't lie and try to manipulate, but certainly there is a sense of immediacy that isn't there in other mediated approaches. Fuentes uses it to decent enough effect to justify it, though it's a shame he didn't make it sound more authentic (i.e. have them write the way people reduced to letter-writing in 2020 are more likely to -- instead of all sticking to the same template that's a hundred years out of date).
       The Eagle's Throne is a political novel. Upsetting the Americans makes for a crisis, but that's not what's of primary concern to the characters. Instead, the focus is on gaining power by reaching the 'Eagle's Throne', the Mexican presidency. Elections are still a few years away, but people are already positioning themselves (and, as frequently, being positioned by others).
       It takes a while for Fuentes to set the stage, because there are so many characters to introduce. From the current and former president to various administration figures, Fuentes has a great deal of jockeying going on. Much is set in motion by María del Rosario Galván's getting very young Nicolás Valdivia "into the inner sanctum of the presidency" -- with young Nicolás eventually rising up in it much faster than anyone could have expected.
       Among the bad guys is the president's chief of staff, Tácito de la Canal, who has presidential ambitions but also a paper trail that ties him to "a colossal fraud". But he's not the only one with secrets: María is keeping one as well. And there's the question about those missing years in Nicolás' background .....
       The death of the president changes the situation fundamentally -- and even more secrets that could wreak havoc lurk elsewhere (such as 'The Man in the Nopal' mask, Mexico's very own answer to the iron-masked Dumas hero). Indeed, the last hundred pages of the novel are thriller-exciting, and pack quite a few good surprises and twists. But the novel is considerably longer than that, and the set-up isn't anywhere near as compelling.
       This is also very much a novel focussed on Mexico, Fuentes putting in a great deal about Mexican politics and history, from the consequences of the president not being allowed to stand for re-election to the effects of corruption. "Mexico's problems go back for centuries", he has an ex-president claim, and Fuentes tries to show what many of these are. There's too much gross simplification here -- Fuentes falls back on the very old-fashioned approach of defining something as absurd as a 'national identity' (and reducing it to fairly simple terms, too). Still, a lot of it sounds fairly good, and it is at least believable that the self-important characters would spout all this nationalist (and nation-bashing) nonsense.
       Fuentes doesn't make it easy for himself or his readers with his epistolary approach, and he's surprisingly reluctant to mine it for all it is worth (or at least play around a bit stylistically -- the tone isn't identical in all the letters, but it's like they all come from the same generation, all having learned how to write a proper letter at the same school, sticking to a basic template). It also takes quite a while to really get the story rolling -- though the last third is the quite effective. Far from a failure, The Eagle's Throne is, however, also only a qualified success.

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The Eagle's Throne: Reviews: Carlos Fuentes: Other books by Carlos Fuentes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Carlos Fuentes lived 1928 to 2012. Winner of the Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos Prize (for Terra Nostra) and the Cervantes Prize (1997). He has taught at Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Columbia, among other universities.

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© 2006-2016 the complete review

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