17 June 2011


Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood #1)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
UK Publisher: Angry Robot
UK Release date: January 2010
Genre: Historical fantasy

"I brought the tip of the knife in contact with my own hand, and carefully drew the shape of a human skull. As I did so, I sang a litany to my patron Mictlantecuhtli, God of the Dead.”

When Priestess Eleuia goes missing under supernatural circumstances, Acatl is charged with the task of solving the mystery of her disappearance. Sensing traces of magic in her blood-soaked room, it appears that a nahual spirit was summoned to kill her. The search begins by hunting the jaguar beast and potential suspects born on a Jaguar day. However Acatl soon learns that his estranged brother, Neutemoc, is the prime suspect after being found in the Priestess's room covered in her blood. Believing his brother to be innocent, Acatl must find the Priestess before his brother is executed for her murder.

To aid the investigation Ceyaxochitl sends an eager young boy, Teomitl to run tasks. Surrounded in protective spells, there is more to the warrior in training than meets the eye, but he is keen to prove himself by helping Acatl. Although reluctant to take him on, Acatl soon realises that the boy is more important to the unfolding events than first thought.

Review: Whilst the plot is complex due to the number of gods and different lands that Acatl must journey to, it is well paced with Acatl and Teomitl running from place to place and danger to danger. With plenty of mystery, gripping plot turns and natural world-building, the story keeps you enthralled right through to the end.

Although necessary to the plot, the number of characters in the book is huge especially when considering all the different gods. And in keeping with the period, traditional Aztec names are used, making it difficult to keep track of exactly who is who.

Acatl’s character is well developed and even though he is self-effacing, he is a likeable character. We learn that his relationship with his late parents was fraught with difficulties, seeing him as cowardly for going into priesthood and not becoming a warrior like his brother. Resentful and unappreciative of his rise to the position of High Priest, Acatl neglected many of his roles. Since his previous apprentice died trying to perform summoning magic, Acatl has since been reluctant to train anyone else. However, life-threatening events and the exuberant Teomitl force him to look again at his role as High Priest and face his own feelings of inadequacy and jealousy.

Servant of the Underworld is not only de Bodard's debut novel, but was also impressively written in English, her second language. Steeped in Aztec mythology and culture, it’s refreshing to read a story that is set in a time so rarely used as a fictional setting. With its complex plot, interesting cast of characters and magical mystery, Servant of the Underworld makes a great first installment to the Obsidian and Blood series. 

Rating: 4*

You can find the full review on Fantasy Faction.

1 comment:

karen! said...

This book sounds promising, but I can totally see what you are saying about the difficulty in trying to keep all the characters straight with their unfamiliar names.