Shadowhawk reviews Angry Robot Books' latest offering, Obsidian and Blood, the omnibus edition containing all the Aztec Mysteries novels and short stories featuring High Priest Acatl.
"This is one of the greatest stories ever told. Aliette de Bodard has brought Noir, Aztec and Fantasy together for an explosive and engaging mix worthy of being called a new trend in the genre. If you have ever wanted to experiment with your reading, then you'll be hard-pressed to do better than read the story of Acatl, High Priest of the Dead." ~The Founding Fields
As I mentioned in the intro to the guest post I put up yesterday, Writing Convincing Non-Western Fantasy by Aliette de Bodard, I was drawn to Obsidian and Blood because of its artwork. The pose by the character is so dynamic and telling that it just draws you in. My only concern with the omnibus was a rather critical one: would I like it, considering that this is all about Aztecs, a culture I have zero prior experience with? Outside of some random Hardy Boys novel back in the blessed days of my youth that is. Other than that, I was all ready to dig into the omnibus soon as I got an advance copy courtesy of the Angry Robot Army. All that was remaining was to find the appropriate time to read, what I presumed originally to be a time-intensive reading experience, the mammoth collection.
Note: This also happens to be the first Angry Robot omnibus I've read. First experiences are weird!
The time did arrive, about three weeks ago, and I picked up the omnibus having just finished Chris Wraight's Wrath of Iron only a few hours before. It was a surprise even for me when I burned through the entire collection in about as much time it takes me to burn through a Black Library omnibus edition. Like I said, first experiences are weird, more so in the case of my first proper exposure to Aliette's writing as I've only read a stand-alone short story by her before: Shipbirth, which is another Aztec-inspired story, a science-fiction one this time.
From the beginning of the first entry in the collection, the novel Servant of the Underworld, Aliette totally hooks you in. I was turning the pages as fast as I could because I couldn't get enough of the setting and the characters. The entire collection tells of a rather bleak yet vibrant society founded upon blood sacrifice, magic, sheer arrogance and an uneasy relationship with gods who are often cruel and vindictive. What's not to love about it? As a layman, that entire phrase describes the Mexica Empire of the Aztecs quite aptly. And each of those aspects are the primary driving forces behind all the events that in these novels.
In their own right, these are also issues that Aliette explores to one degree or another.
Blood sacrifice. This is a constant running them throughout the Acatl tales. Whether it is offering daily prayers to the gods, or performing the greatest and most powerful of spells and rituals, blood sacrifice is a highly important aspect of channeling magic in the Mexica Empire. Consequently, it just so happens that these stories also have some of the highest and most shocking body counts in any fantasy novel I've read. Doubly so for a mystery/detective-style novel.
This also really sets apart Obsidian and Blood from most other fantasy novels/series out there. The high body-count and the constant blood sacrifice mean that the thematic undercurrents in it are different from everything else. It is quite shocking at first but then that's just our biases speaking. Aztec culture and religious practices are practically alien to what we are used to, even with everything that goes on in GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire series. All I can say is that this is a point in Aliette's favour.
You can find a full review of the omnibus over at The Founding Fields: