Avanti Centrae is the multiple-award-winning author of the VanOps thriller series. You can read more about her here.
A few weeks ago, we were enjoying a socially distant vacation up in the Lake Tahoe basin, and discovered a bald mountaintop that we used to star gaze. We’d hoped to see Neowise, but the comet was already fading. Looking around the black sky, the Milky Way stood out, and the blanket of stars was so thick, it was hard to find a space between them. Using a scope, we could see Jupiter’s four moons, and the gorgeous rings around Saturn were even visible. I felt insignificant and full of awe, at the same time.
I smile, now, reliving that magical moment.
Have you ever seen a shooting star? Wished upon it? Will you watch the Perseids, which peak during mid-August, and are considered the best meteor shower of the year? Did you see Neowise and, for a fleeting moment, get caught up in the wonder and magic of something bright and brilliant? Something bigger than ourselves?
That sense of childlike wonder about the stars was part of my inspiration for writing Solstice Shadows (Thunder Creek Press, August 11th, 2020), a standalone novel in the VanOps thriller series. I love to combine intrigue, history, science and mystery into my non-stop action thrillers, and using archeoastronomy as a backdrop was a perfect way to set up the story.
When a mysterious Russian thief escapes over Maddy Marshall’s rain-soaked balcony carrying an ancient star chart in his bloodied hand, the aikido black belt has no choice except to join her covert ops boyfriend and twin brother in the pursuit. If her royal Spanish family legends are true, the rare celestial chart leads to a treasure trove capable of powering the ultimate instrument of global destruction.
To uncover the secrets of the chart, she and the VanOps team race to a Mexican archeoastronomy site, Chichen Itza, where they team up with a world-renowned archeoastronomer. The Maya, like many ancient civilizations, were fascinated by the stars. They watched the skies, worshiped sacred heavenly bodies, tallied the days, and performed rituals with their celestial temples.
A short excerpt
Here’s a short excerpt from the novel to give you a flavor for the relationship the ancients had with the night sky:
“What does this pyramid have to do with the stars?” Maddy asked.
“Nearly everything!” Anu, the archeoastronomer replied. “The whole pyramid is a sacred calendar.”
“Can you elaborate?” Jags asked.
“Yes. As an example, there are four flights of stairs, one on each face of the pyramid. Each flight has exactly ninety-one steps. When you add the top platform, you get 365 days in a year.”
Jags tilted her head. “That’s fascinating.”
“It is. Another example. There are eighteen terraces on each side of the stairways, equating to the number of months in the Maya religious calendar.”
Bear swatted a mosquito. “That’s neat, but isn’t the real spectacle here at the spring and fall equinox?”
Anu favored him with the first genuine smile Maddy had seen from the woman. “Yes. Thousands gathered then and now. The Maya aligned the pyramid to make a special optical illusion during those times. As the sun sets, the terrace corners cast diamond-patterned shadows, representing the body of their feathered serpent god, Kukulkán.”
Maddy pointed to the bottom of the stairs. “Do those huge carved snake heads help the illusion?”
“That they do.”
“What about winter solstice?” Maddy persisted.
“Similar thing, smaller scale. This pyramid has two sides bathed in light, two in darkness.” Anu pointed southwest, along a path. “But see the smaller pyramid over there, the Ossario?”
They all nodded.
“Late in the afternoon of winter solstice—today if the weather clears—a serpentine shadow can be seen wriggling its way down the face of the structure on one of those balustrades.”
All week long, please tune into the Blackbird Writer’s Facebook page, where I’ll share more stories about the night sky to bring you a little magic.