Thursday, June 14, 2012

Obsidian & Blood by Aliette de Bodard

Pub date: June 26, 2012.

Author website.

A massive fantasy omnibus containing all three novels in the Obsidian and Blood series:

Servant of the Underworld: 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.

Harbinger of the Storm: The year is Two House and the Mexica Empire teeters on the brink of destruction, lying vulnerable to the flesh-eating star-demons – and to the return of their creator, a malevolent goddess only held in check by the Protector God’s power. The council is convening to choose a new emperor, but when a councilman is found dead, only Acatl, High Priest of the Dead, can solve the mystery.

Master of the House of Darts: The year is Three Rabbit, and the storm is coming… The coronation war for the new Emperor has just ended in a failure, the armies retreating with a mere forty prisoners of war – not near enough sacrifices to ensure the favor of the gods. When one of those prisoners of war dies of a magical illness, Acatl, High Priest for the Dead, is summoned to investigate.  (

OBSIDIAN & BLOOD ended up being one of those books that kept me reading but I wasn't over the moon about.  Don't get me wrong; I liked what I read but I only read through SERVANT OF THE UNDERWORLD.  I just didn't feel compelled to keep reading.

I liked the world that de Bodard created.  It felt effortless, as if it didn't need explanation.  It just was.  It might be because it's Mayan, of which people have a general understanding of.  They may not know the workings of the years (I sure didn't) or which gods to curse to and why (something that nagged at me a lot but I eventually just started ignoring it) but even without explanation the world felt fully fleshed.  It felt like it was something that actually existed.  It was tangible and I believed it in absolutely from the very beginning.  I'm not going to sit here and pretend I know a ton about the Mayans.  I don't but reading de Bodard's world felt genuine to me.

I also liked how she made the gods beings that humans could actually interact with.  They bestowed power to the priests and priestesses directly.  You could visit one of their temples and speak with them as if you would speak to someone in your house (assuming your sacrifices were worthy, of course).  They were a part of the created world as much as the temples and people themselves.  They weren't intangible beings that people worshipped to blindly.  Faith was essentially removed from the equation because the gods had proven themselves in multiple ways.  No one could deny them; it would be like denying a chair.  Or a reed mat.

The effortless blood-letting and sacrifice, while kind of shocking, felt like it fit.  This was a natural occurrence for the Mayans, part of daily life and it was treated as such in the text.  Attention wasn't drawn to it, there was never a big deal around it.  If Acatl had to cut himself to serve a purpose he did it and that was that.  If something had to be sacrificed it was and no one bat an eye.  The author really kept herself out of the story in terms of moralizing and I really liked that.  This was what the Mayans did.  Full stop.

I liked Acatl as a character.  He definitely had some issues to contend with especially when he started getting deeply involved in his brother's murder trial.  But a distance was there.  I just couldn't connect with him on a deeper level than as a character I was reading on the page.  Not necessarily a bad thing but it had me skating through the story, skimming the surface.

The overall story I felt was far more murder mystery than anything fantasy.  As much as I really liked the effortless feel of the world it ultimately played second string to the story as a result.  Personally I like my fantasy worlds being characters in the story itself.  I like them lively and front and center.  So I definitely have a double standard here.  I admit that.  What can I say?  It's just how I feel.  I wished there was more of a balance between the world and the plot, where it didn't feel so much like a crime novel with a different background.  I think that kept me from really connecting as well since I'm not too big on the crime genre overall.  I'm okay with it but I don't actively read it.

If you're a fantasy fan the Mayan world in OBSIDIAN & BLOOD is definitely one to take a look at.  It stands out again your more standard fantasy fare of castles and dragons and Merlin-like magic and whatnot.  Beware of the names as I found them very hard to pronounce and don't expect to get much by the way of explanation for anything.  The book is written as if the reader is already aware of the world they're reading about.  So it might take some acclimating or you might end up like me and feeling a little distanced from it as a result.  Still it's a pretty good read.  I just didn't feel compelled to read beyond the first book.

Ban Factor: High - Total lack of Christianity and total pagan sacrifice and blood-letting.  I love it.  They hate it.
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