starlady: (abhorsen)
[personal profile] starlady
Bodard, Aliette de. Servant of the Underworld. New York: Angry Robot, 2010.

At long last I received my copy of this book in the mail last month, and it did not disappoint.

Long-time readers are probably already familiar with my love for Aliette de Bodard's writing, particularly her short stories, since this is her first novel. Bodard, who is French-Vietnamese, is remarkably good at writing chromatic fantasy that derives from cultures not normally drawn on in English-language fantasy in Europe and America, particularly China and the empires of Central America (I particularly like her Xuya universe, in which China colonized the west coast of North America in the 15thC and the Triple Alliance, or Aztec Empire, survived to coexist with European colonists east of the Appalachians).

This book, however, is set squarely in a fantasy world that is much more closely linked to our own, during the reign of Axayacatl in the Triple Alliance, i.e. the Aztec Empire. Acatl, the Chief Priest of Mictlan, the Underworld of the Dead, the lowest priesthood in the hierarchy of the Mexica cosmological order, is called on to solve a locked-room mystery in which a priestess of Xochipilli disappears from her quarters while in the presence of Acatl's own brother, a parvenu Jaguar Knight, with the possible assistance of a jaguar spirit. What Acatl finds leads him to a confrontation with some of the oldest powers and most resentful gods in the empire, as well as with uncomfortable knowledge about his own self, and his family.

Like all good mysteries, this one is compelling and hard to put down, and Bodard excels at explaining and bringing to life Tenochtitlan and its society without info-dumping. I liked Acatl a lot, despite or because of his very human flaws, and I sympathized with his resentments over the arrogance of his brother and the warrior class, and the unsustainable prestige allotted to them. I also especially liked Acatl's sister Mihmatini, because she is awesome; in fact, I was impressed with the parts the female characters play. I've read posts on Bodard's blog ([livejournal.com profile] aliettedb) in which she points out that in historical fantasy giving women ahistorical agency is, well, ahistorical, but the women in the Triple Alliance are able to exercise a great deal of power and agency without exceeding their societally allotted gender roles. In particular, Mihmatini is a prodigy at magic, even better than Acatl himself. The ending stands on its own, but happily it also sets up the sequel, Harbinger of the Storm, which comes out in the U.S. in February (this is the virtue of the long wait for the first book here). So have the trailer for Harbinger below, and read the first chapters of Servant here.


(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-08 19:57 (UTC)
recessional: a small blue-paisley teapot with a blue mug (Default)
From: [personal profile] recessional
OOOH. *marks down to read*

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-08 20:00 (UTC)
recessional: a small blue-paisley teapot with a blue mug (Default)
From: [personal profile] recessional
*grin* True story: absent really good classes, while I DO the research, well-written historical-setting/period stories are invaluable for me to get the patterns and textures right in my head.

And textures for the Triple Alliance that are not based in sensationalist crap: I needs them.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-09 00:04 (UTC)
ein_myria: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ein_myria
Ooh, thanks for the rec/plug. I'll try to check that out. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-12 20:28 (UTC)
myaru: (Default)
From: [personal profile] myaru
I was just in Borders looking at this and wondering if it would be good reading, because it sounded awesome. Thank you for posting your thoughts! I'm going to pick it up after Christmas.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-08 20:22 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aliettedb.livejournal.com
Er, wow. I'd go hide, but I'm so glad you liked it!
Mihmatini just happened while I was writing the book, and I'm glad she's solidified enough to be a character of her own.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-08 21:01 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] starlady38.livejournal.com
I did like it, and I'm looking forward to the next ones!

And yes, Mihmatini is awesome.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-01-04 16:37 (UTC)
marina: (Default)
From: [personal profile] marina
*adds to To Read list*

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