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Book Review: Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard

 

Blurb from GoodReads:

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.

This book is pretty damn good. A lot better than I expected. I have to admit, I read the blurb and decided it couldn’t be interesting. I mean, the whole Aztec blood magic thing. I wasn’t into it.

But it’s really good. I stayed up too late to read this and I really like it. The end is perfect. I did not see it coming, but at the same time, it makes perfect sense. Really. Just the kind of ending I like best.

I have to admit, I wasn’t too crazy about the book when I first heard about it. The idea of an Aztec priest and a murder mystery. I mean, the Aztecs are known for blood sacrifice, human and otherwise. I figured there would be both in the book and I wasn’t crazy about the idea.

But it’s not bad. Yes, they sacrifice animals and the temple keeps a collection of animals to sacrifice. And there are mentions of a new king having to go and gather prisoners for sacrifice to prove himself fit to be king. It’s a little disturbing, but that’s not the focus.

The writer gives all the characters Aztec names. There is a lot about the gods, what sacrifices each like, what offends them, the other temples, about the government. How the king becomes king and the politics surrounding both (both meaning the temple and the government). I don’t know how much of it is real and how much is made up out of whole cloth, but I loved it. World building is one of the things I love most and this was pretty fantastic.

The main character has personal issues – issues with his brother, his father, his choice to become a priest instead of a warrior. Despite a lifetime as a priest, he’s still struggling with all of those issues. Due to someone else’s political muddling, he became the High Priest of his order. It’s a role he still needs to grow into. He’s not exactly leading it at the beginning.

I thought he was a woman at the beginning, too. LOL Well, it’s written in 1st POV and it has the feel of a lot of urban fantasy novels so . . . yeah. I thought he was a girl. Most urban fantasies are written from the female POV so I think I might be forgiven.

Despite the Aztec world, the lack of sex, it feels a lot like urban fantasy to. But if you associate urban fantasy with a paranormal version of our world, instead of the other elements, this one might feel more like traditional fantasy to you. IMO, it’s a most wonderful mix of the two.

The most memorable part for me was when our hero discovers the first villain of the piece (a pawn, more like, who allowed herself to be used unto death) gives herself to another temple rather face immediate death. The temple will prepare her and drown her as a sacrifice to their goddess. Their goddess likes her sacrifices to be drowned and not killed in some other way.

I do recommend Servant of the Underworld.

 

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