Obsidian and Blood - A fantasy of the Aztec world

  • Posted on: 5 February 2016
  • By: Sevhina

Obsidian & Blood Book CoverI reject the idea that this is an "urban fantasy". Admittedly, it takes place in a city, Tenochtitlan, capitol of the Mexica Empire. There are definately magical and supernatural things going on, not to mention a little human sacrifice. Finally, the most common plot of UF is present, the investigation of supernatural crimes. Okay, there might be a few reasons this gets filed under urban fantasy, but there are no vampires, no werewolves or even werejaguars, and no fae. I would file this Aztec Mystery

In Acatl's Tenochtitlan the continued survival of his people depends upon the goodwill of the gods. As High Priest of Mictlantecuhtli, Lord Death of the Underworld (known as Mictlan) Acatl is asked to investigate the disappearance of a beautiful priestess. The crimescene is a blood spattered room. The only clues are two pendants and traces of nahual magic, a jaguar guardian spirit. The only known witness, and obvious suspect, is his brother Neutomoc, a wealthy Jaguar Knight.

A bit about Acatl's world. Four times one or more of the gods have destroyed the world and and risen to ascendancy. In this, the Fifth World, the young god Huitzilpochtli, the Southern Hummingbird, is ascendant and he has bestowed some of his power upon the Revered Speaker (emperor) of the Mexica Empire. His temple is one half of the Twin Pyramid and Tlaloc, God of Rain, has the other half. Because not only their empire, but the whole Fifth World, is at stake the Southern Hummingbird gets the majority of sacrifices. The next most respected is the God of Rain because without his blessing the maize crops grown on the floating islands will wither in the summer heat. The other temples have much less power politically and receive far fewer gifts.

The temple of the dead is one of the poorest. They receive the bodies of the dead and prepare them for their journey through the underworld. They also act as primitive coroners and try to determine cause of death. Some families are grateful but the Lord of the Dead has little to offer the living. Acatl's peasant parents accused him of being a coward because he joined such an unpopular clergy instead of becoming a warrior like his brother. His brother resented being the only one who could support their parents and sister. For himself, Acatl was quite happy to remain at his rural temple sitting vigils for the dead and tracking down the occasional shadow beast, vicious spirits that escape (they are usually summoned by sorcerers) from Mictlan. Even as High Priest he has no desire for court politics and is still beneath his brother's rank as a Jaguar Knight.

Servant of the Underworld: Tracking supernatural entities is something Acatl does well and ordinarily he wouldn't mind trying to figure out what has happened to the priestess Elueia. But dealing with his brother churns up past guilts and anger even though he knows there is no way Neutomoc would stoop to murder, or be dumb enough to stick around if he did. An arrogant young nobleman, Teomotl, insists on helping Acatl who is more worried about protecting him than grateful for the help. His Fire Priest (second in command) confronts him for not doing the work of the High Priest including managing the temple and going to court and demands that Acatl start leading the priesthood or step aside. Matters are further complicated when the High Priest of Tlaloc puts Neutomoc on trial for murder, lack of a corpse not a problem. Most troubling of all, the Revered Speaker is dying and until his heir ascends the throne the Southern Hummingbird is greatly weakened.

Harbinger of the Storm: The Revered Speaker is dead one of the councilors in charge of choosing the new Revered Speaker is murdered. After solving the crime, and saving the Fifth World, in book one its not surprising that Acatl is asked to investigate. Once again people are lying and the gods are playing heavenly politics with Acatl caught in the middle. At least now Acatl has begun to act like a High Priest although he's not comfortable in that role. Teomotl offers his assistance again and Acatl isn't as hesitant to accept although the growing attraction between the young man and Acatl's sister causes complications. Naturally, the fate of the Fifth World is once again in Acatl's hands.

Master of the House of Darts: In honor of their new Emperor the warriors of the Mexica Empire go to war but its a disaster and they return with very few captured warriors for the sacrificial altars. Its still an honor to be a sacrifice so when one of them is found mysteriously dead (yes, before having his heart ripped out of his chest, no mystery there) they summon Acatl to investigate. One of the city states that pays tribute to Tenochtitlan may be testing the new Revered Speaker's power. By now we are not at all surprised that the fate of the empire, and probably that of the entire Fifth World, is at stake, but its still not boring.

Overall the writing is excellent. The Fifth World seems complete in every detail, including idiom. The dialog is modern with no accents, unless you count the tongue twisting names, but common sayings have been seamlessly adapted to the Fifth World. The mysticism isn't treated as religeon so much as simple reality, because to Acatl and his people it is reality not myth, legend, or church doctrine that can change over time. There is good character development for Acatl and even some for others like Teomitl. Sure the world is always ending but never in the same way twice. When you think about it that's apparently how the Aztecs saw the world, existing at the whim of capricious gods that cared little about their people beyond their potential for providing blood and where the world could end at any time as it had before.

Obsidian and Blood is the omnibus edition available in both paperback and ebook. The audio books are only available individually as Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts. Narration is done by Jeff Telfer. Sadly, I didn't care for Bodard's other book about fallen angels in post apocalyptic Paris.