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Archive for the ‘de Bodard’ Category

Series Review: ‘Obsidian and Blood’ by Alliette de Bodard

A series I had my eye on for quite some time, ‘Obsidian and Blood’ intimidated me at first.  It looked to be right up my alley, but I wondered if I would get lost in a world based around the ancient America’s, of which I have very little knowledge.  I feared getting lost in the names, lost in the mythos,  and feared the book would turn into a giant research project if I wanted to follow the story.  My fears were unjustified; the book is a well-crafted, well contained story.  I have mentioned it before, the books are surprisingly accessible, and at no point did I lose myself in the names.

What is the series about?  In short it is the story of Acatl, High Priest of the Dead in pre-colonization Tenochtitlan.  His duties are usually about ushering the dead to his master Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death.  But due to his position, he often spends time investigating deaths that affect the boundaries that keep the world safe.  The stories are told in first person from Acatl’s point of view, and his travels take him all around the capital.  Although these are obviously historical fantasy, in many ways they read like urban fantasy detective novels.  Our protagonist interviews witnesses, fights little political battles with his superiors, and races against time to bring justice and/or save the world.
The world building is superb.  Gods in this world are real and active participants, several times Acatl is forced to talk to one or more of them.  Blood sacrifice is a way of life.  There is no modern spin put on the realities of this world, sacrifice is necessary and there are no qualms.  It would soon seem out of place if Acatl didn’t use worship thorns to get blood from his ear.  The state of the supernatural is revealed as needed, without annoying info dumps, so that a reader will quickly understand recurring details such as the fifth world is under the protection of the Southern Hummingbird, and what is needed to keep it so.
The author’s writing is a no frills style that may not appeal to everyone, but may be part of the accessibility of the book.  I hate to call the books easy to read, because that seems to denote simplicity and lack of intelligence, which simply is not the case.  But it is true that de Bodard is not trying to be a wordsmith here, the economy of words keeps the pacing brisk and entertaining.   Perhaps it was the easy read style that allowed me to keep track of the characters so well.  I never had to go back to find who a character was, or which god they attended, or even what that god represented.
The characters in the book were both good and bad.  Acatl really grows through the series, from a brooding man who is almost ashamed of his position to a very competent High Priest.  His student Teomitl on the other hand was a single note player for most the series.  His devotion to Acatl doesn’t really fit with his pride and stubborn nature.   The Reverand Speaker was almost cartoonish incompetent.   But to counteract that several of the High Priests Acatl is forced to play politics with are fiendishly clever and fun to read.   Only a few female characters, but with a couple of strengths.  Ceyaxochitl was a master of politics, and a strong ally to Acatl.  Mihmatini quickly fit into her role as a Guardian.  A couple others seemed to exist only to give cryptic messages. All  forgivable in a very obviously patriarchal society, the interactions stayed realistic.
I only had a few issues with the books.  The main one came toward the end of the third book when we once again followed Acatl on a long runaround between witnesses.  I know it is a staple of the mystery genre, but after three books it grew tiring.  Just once I wanted a witness to reveal all the information, especially when they had nothing to hide.  There were also a couple of convenient “cryptic warnings.”  I also felt the second book got carried away with the magic.  Hard to describe, but it felt like a TV medical drama at times, with  “ok this spell didn’t work, so let’s try this one.”   Lastly, if a reader picks up the series in omnibus form, skip to the short stories at the end and read them first.  Several of Acatl’s relations are explained that would have been nice in the first book especially. 
Obviously, the strengths of the series far out did the problems for me, and I enjoyed the series a lot.  I would recommend to many fantasy lovers.  The historical setting and interactions with gods give the series an epic feeling, but the detective style will appeal to many lovers of urban fantasy.
4 Stars 
Books in the series
All three books also found in the omnibus “Obsidian and Blood.’


Fantasy Review: ‘Master of the House of Darts’ by Alliette de Bodard

Third, and currently last, in the series, Master of the House of Darts once again follows Acatl as he investigates threats to the empire, and the mortal world itself.  A quick recap for those unfamiliar with the series.  Acatl is the High Priest for the Dead, who in his duties of ushering the dead to his master also does his best to keep people from messing with the boundaries that protect the world.  Magic is real, gods are accessible (on their own terms of coarse), and blood fuels many things.  Told in the first person, the book follows Acatl in his investigations. 

Building off events of the second book, we learn that the coronation war for the new Reverend Speaker Tizoc-tzin was a disaster, not bringing in near enough captives for sacrifice.  The Reverend Speaker is a weak, paranoid man, yet his coronation necessary to keep the boundaries safe.  Thus matters are made worse during the celebration, when one of the captives falls to a illness.  Tizoc-tzin sees it as a slight at best, a plot at worst, and Acatl is called in to investigate.  He once again face hostile witnesses, political infighting, and magical enemies.  Worst of all, some of the blame for the sickness may fall in his own lap.

Personally, I found this to be the best book of a very good series.  The same positives from the first two books are still present, a very easy to read writing style(easy to read but not simple or dumbed down), a quick pace, and some incredible world building, incredible accessibility despite the lesser know pantheon and names.  Even though the second book dealt with a possible end to the world, Master of the House of Darts took a similar fate and did it better.  Perhaps this was because in many ways it felt more like a fantasy book than a mystery book,  which lends itself better to the “save the world” type story.  The magic felt more organic here, it was never used as a crutch, or perhaps it was just better explained.  There was a bit less traveling this time around, which also led to a tighter story.  The ending involved several confrontations that were tense and believable, including some between people who are supposed to be allies 

Perhaps it is because I am more familiar with the characters three books in, but I felt several were seen at their best in this book.  Acatl continues to build on his improvements from the second book, and is now more secure with his place than ever.  Which is good, because as usual he is surrounded by people who are only friends if it helps their own cause.  Nezahaul-tzin is back from the second book, still infuriating Acatl, but still helping in small ways.  I have grown to enjoy any chapters with Acamapichtli, one time enemy of Acatl, whose master of political manners are in direct contrast to Acatl, who finds the politicing to be the worst part of his job.  Mihmatini, Acatl’s sister, has a larger presence in this book, and makes the most of it.  She is one of the most resourceful characters in the book.

The book is at its’ weakest when it is following conventions of the mystery genre.  Constant dead ends in the investigation have started to get repetitive after three books.  The “cryptic message” trope is also overused.  Is there any reason that not one person cooperates fully with Acatl?  Especially those innocent of wrong doing?  But as this book is more focused on the weakening of the boundaries, this is a minor squabble at most.

There was also one plot point that seemed to rely on knowledge that I am not privy too.  It was brought up that Acatl’s order was forced to expel many of the female followers, making it currently an all male priesthood.  I know there were several short stories published before the novels, and wonder if the details are are in one of them.

All said, this was a great end to the series.

4 stars.

Series Review

Fantasy Review: ‘Harbinger of the Storm’ by Alliete de Bodard

Harbinger of the Storm is the second book in the Obsidian and Blood series, and is an very good continuation of the series.  For those unfamiliar, the series is a historical fantasy set in the Aztec Empire, an empire where magic is everywhere and common, and where the gods have an active part in life.  It is also a series of murder mystery, but with magic.  Like the first book, the story is told in first person from the point of view of Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead.  Where the first book was at its core a murder mystery, the second book ups the stakes to the fate of the world itself.

Like the first book this novel is surprisingly accessible.  My knowledge of Aztec mythology is minimal, yet I never lost track of the deities or their corresponding priests.  The author is very good at dropping just enough information to keep you from getting lost, without ever slowing the story down with it.  Pacing is important to me, and this is another strength.  Acatl starts off investigating a grisly murder, and quickly gets involved in something much larger.  Escalating amounts of danger, more and more politics, and a showdown with a couple gods follow. 

While I enjoyed this novel a lot, I struggled with the magic system a bit more this time around.  In a land where gods play an active part it is hard to criticize the pure amount of magic that affected the characters, but at times it overwhelmed everything else.  Example, while the world was coming down in the form of star daemons,  Acatl and others conveniently find a loophole in a ceremony to replace a necessary Priestess who can slow the damage. 

The world is just as brutal as before, with sacrifice being a necessary part of life.  Some gods required certain animals, some human, and almost all spells require some kind of blood immediately at hand(Acatl is described cutting his earlobe numerous times).  There is no modern morality spin on this, the gods require blood and it is never second guessed. 

I enjoyed Acatl’s voice a lot more this time around, the brooding inferiority complex is mostly gone.  I was hoping for more grown from his apprentice, Teomitl, who remained a brash, impulsive young noble.  I was also surprised by the complete disappearance of women characters.  The first book had a couple of strong women who did all they could to influence events, despite the patriarchal society.  In Harbinger I counted three females, none who had a any real influence on the story. 

Pros:  As easy to read as dime store paperback murder mystery, but a lot more intelligent.  A very interesting main character, and a nice blend of building on the story, while keeping it contained in one book. 

Cons: The magic got overwhelming, and Acatl made is discoveries at just the right time a bit too much this time around.

3 stars

Followed by ‘Master of the House of Darts’

Series Review

Fantasy Review: ‘Servant of the Underwold’ by Alliete de Bodard

Note: This very short review was posted to Goodreads before the blog was live.  I know it is brief, but hated having a review of the second book without  review of the first.  I therefore added it only for continuity sakes. 

Surprisingly accessible, despite dealing with a lesser known pantheon of gods. A first person murder mystery that morphs into a fuller story. The main character broods a bit too much on his past, but is likable, and has realistic interactions, both with mortals and gods(Gods are real, and part of the world here). The supporting characters are fleshed out, with their own stories in the background.

Politics are interesting, as is the use of religion. The author makes zero attempt to cover up the brutality of the religion, nor is there any attempt to put a western morality spin on it, sacrifice is part of the world, period.

Few complaints. Use of a modern idiom stuck out(but only once), and a semi-let down when it came to the reasoning behind the main characters brooding.

Quick paced, fun, well researched(or faked well), and completely unique. Recommended, and here is hoping the next two books in the series are just as enjoyable.

4 stars

Followed by:
Harbinger of the Storm
Master of the House of Darts

Series Review

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