Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard [Book Review]

It is very refreshing to read a fantasy that takes place outside the ordinary western settings with elfs, orcs and traditional magic. Aliette have found her culture and settings in central American pre-colonization Aztec country. This is about a murder mystery investigated by Acatl, High Priest for the Dead. In many respect it reminds of traditional mystery novels but the setting is the sacred city with its priests, worshipers, warriors, pyramids, temples, cults and living gods.

Blood magic plays a major part in the magic here, you have to give a little to make it work. Blood and cutting is something Acatl is doing all the time so he does gets weak from blood loss from time to time. Magic also involves the gods but there is a very pragmatic view on the gods and their willingness to help, it is more of a negotiation than the traditional christian/other religions ‘submit to your god’ kind of worship that I find entertaining.

There is also the traditional peeling of the onion of deception and intrigue before the story turns to its cataclysmic and cosmic conclusion. Acatl is a very good detective and I feel I learned a lot about the Aztecs by reading this book. The plot is captivating and the characters came to life to my inner eye.

Some people might have a problem with names they can’t pronounce but these are historically correct Aztec’s ones not like some science fiction novels I read with arbitrary made up names I can’t pronounce.

This is a great book if you want to try a different kind of fantasy, set as it is outside the traditional western or Japanese settings. It is very much a standalone book but it is part of a trilogy if you like more. I enjoyed it very much and I am looking forward to the sequel Harbringer of the Storm when it is released in January 2011.


Title: Servant of the Underworld

Series: Obsidian and Blood book 1
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Genre:  Aztec Fantasy
Paperback: 432
Publisher: Angry Robot (2010)
Copy: bought it myself

Order from: Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok

Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan the capital of the Aztecs. The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A Priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, High Priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Aliette De Bodard is the hottest rising star in world SF and Fantasy, blending ancient crimes with wild imagination. This is her debut novel.

FILE UNDER: Modern Fantasy [The Aztecs / Locked room mystery / Human sacrifice / Destroy the Gods]