Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Obsidian and Blood by Aliette de Bodard

Obsidian and Blood is a three-volume epic historical fantasy set in pre-Columbian Mexico. It follows the adventures of the reluctant High Priest of the Dead, Acatl, who would much rather have remained a sort of parish priest of the Dead, as it were. Part of his role as chief worshipper of Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death and the underworld, is investigating mysterious deaths around the city of Tenochtitlan, and so crime-solving, intrigue and adventure ensue.
The setting of these books is wonderful, and de Bodard creates a really immersive sense of place that draws you in and encourages you to find out more for yourself (I have dug out the few Aztec archaeology books I had to look into things further). She does a really good job of making her world, with its living gods and magic, a realistic and believable place, even managing to rationalise human sacrifice in such a way that it just fits with what's going on and the fact that the main characters accept it doesn't seem weird. This is really impressive given how different the Aztec culture is to our own.
The characters are great too. Acatl is the slightly neurotic narrator who constantly feels as though he is letting people down, but is actually really brave and likeable. His strong-willed sister Mihmatini, proud student Teomitl and Jeeves-like second-in-command Ichtaca provide excellent support. My personal favourite character is Acamapichtli, the scheming High Priest of Tlaloc, god of storms, as he really develops through the three books.
There are a couple of downsides to the novels. Firstly, it does take quite a while to get used to the Aztec names, which is unavoidable really, but the rolling around of all the consonants in one's head can be quite distracting. Secondly, and more importantly, I found the plots of all three books to be ultimately a little unsatisfying. They rely a little too much on supernatural intervention. I suppose the world that de Bodard writes is one in which the supernatural intertwines with everything, meaning that it would be strange if the hands of the gods weren't involved with the plots. I hope, however, that if she writes another Acatl novel (and I sincerely hope that she does) that the plot will be more focused on human motivations.

Book: Obsidian and Blood
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Publisher: Angry Robot
Score: 8/10

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