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Servant of the Underworld

(Obsidian and Blood #1)

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,735 ratings  ·  319 reviews
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.
Paperback, 432 pages
Published October 26th 2010 by Angry Robot (first published September 1st 2010)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  1,735 ratings  ·  319 reviews

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May 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of genre-bender fantasy
Looking for something besides medieval European-based fantasy? Too many werewolves just looking for love in your reading? Tired of airships and clockworks? (Note: I’m not even bringing up the zombie references, but yes, you can have too much of the walking dead). Aliette de Bodard’s trilogy Obsidian and Blood might just be the solution to the fantasy reader looking to genre-bend. The first book, Servant of the Underworld, is a fascinating stand-alone book, so don’t let commitment issues prevent ...more
3.5 stars

Welcome to Tenochtitlan, home to Acatl, unenthusiastic High Priest of the Dead and now, due to circumstances beyond his control, equally unenthusiastic lead investigator in the bloody disappearance of a priestess. Unfortunately, it’s too close to home to ignore, especially once a family member is arrested for the crime. But that doesn’t mean he has to be happy about it, his quiet life has been ruined and someone’s going to pay for it. Using skills both investigative and magical, Acatl m
Chalchiutlicue. Say that quickly ten times, without stumbling!

I didn't read any reviews for Servant of the Underworld before I started. I think this is a good thing, because the label 'speculative fiction' tends to put me off, more often than not. Speculative fiction, that bastard child straddling the fence between literary fiction and genre fantasy, has pretensions of grandeur that tend to overwhelm the actual talent of the writer. That Aliette de Bodard knows her subject inside out is a given.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was so different, really fascinating. Set in the pre-Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, we meet Alcatel, high priest of the dead. He is forced to investigate the death of a priestess in which his brother is implicated and becomes involved in a much bigger problem as a result. Really the story revolves around a battle between the old gods and the new, the survival of the fifth world at stake.
It seemed slightly strange initially to have a murder mystery and investigator in such a tale, but
I really enjoyed this book for the most part. It’s clearly a first novel, but a really well done one. The setting is fascinating. I won’t go into it, because you can read the blurb. The names are hard to parse and too long to even say in my mind every time I see them, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. I wish I’d known there was an index in the back. I liked how the actual plot was how the MC came into his own during the course of the book. The murder mystery was interesting too.
Allison Hurd
My expectations had been brought very low about this book, but they needn't have been. I thought this was a really great urban fantasy that maybe just went on a bit too long.

CONTENT WARNING: (just a list of topics) (view spoiler)

Things to love:

-The mythology. It was really cool to learn more about the different Aztec gods.

-The historical setting. Not only do we immerse ourselves in Aztec lore, this story takes plac
K.J. Charles
Aztec detective fantasy noir. As you do. This is a dark and horrific world of blood sacrifice and cruelly capricious gods, vividly drawn. Our hero is the high priest of Lord Death, and must investigate the disappearance of a priestess for which his estranged brother has been framed. Gnarly mystery expands into world-threatening fantasy action. Highly readable, if not as assured as the author's more recent work, and a genuinely fascinating and very well drawn setting. ...more
Jan 29, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Servant of the Underworld by Writers of the Future winner Aliette de Bodard is an interesting and, especially for a debut, well-executed cross-genre novel that successfully combines several disparate elements into an original story.

If ever a novel could be called cross-genre, Servant of the Underworld is it: the story is set in the 15th century Aztec empire (1. historical fiction) but magic and gods are real (2. fantasy). When a priestess is murdered, Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead, gets inv
Apr 07, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
DNF. Sorry.

Strike one:

"The hunger in his eyes was palpable"

Unless you usually gauge mood by poking people in the eye then no, it wasn't. Also when I tweeted it I had several people assume I was reading crappy erotica. That is not a good sign.

Strike two:

"Oh," giggled another poorly-developed female character, "politics! I'm so glad I'm a woman and don't have to think about that."

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Strike three:

Actually, there was no specific strike three. I just realised that I didn't care any more. I
Dawn C
I think I admire the idea of this story more than I enjoyed reading it. The setting and imagination put into this Aztec murder mystery is pretty great, but I had a hard time feeling any connection with the characters or their motives and emotional lives. I also felt that it lacked the layers I've found in de Bodard's Xuya universe novellas. Perhaps it simply didn't have enough meat on it to justify a whole novel. In any case I continue to be impressed with de Bodard's genre defying stories and h ...more
Aztec murder mystery sounds like a great idea but, damn, this was disappointing. Even more so because it started really promising with interesting world building that immediately drew me in. Then it fell flat on its butt and did a lot of telling and no showing. The plot and the characters were so boring, I almost didn't finish it. The writing wasn't great either. The constant swearing in the form of *whatever deity* strike me/blind me/curse him might have been the most annoying thing I've ever s ...more
Jul 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: scifi-club-read
This was interesting mostly because of the Aztec culture setting. The names of the gods and the overall mythology were shiny and new to me which always adds a star but the overall mystery and character development was somewhat mediocre.
Servant of the Underworld has been called Aztec noir - a traditional noir detective story set in the world of Aztec mythology. I have some mixed feelings about that combination.

The plot is a traditional noir detective story. I am not personally very familiar with noir tropes, but the other members of my book club said they are all present and accounted for. Acatl is the detective. The jaguar knights are cops, with a corrupt police chief to boot. It is interesting to see this familiar type of sto
Jun 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really wasn't sure about reading this. I read some of Aliette de Bodard's shorter fiction and wasn't very interested, and there's so much potential for creepy awful judginess -- or equally as bad, preachiness -- when it comes to a novel based on something like the Aztec/Mayan/Incan/Toltec world. Especially when the writer brings an essentially modern form of story to meld with it (in this case, detective/mystery). There's the danger of making your POV character too much the modern man, or wall ...more
Jul 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
07/11/2020 Notes:

Currently available on Kindle Unlimited Read & Listen (USA)

John Telfer was a good narrator but his accent threw me out of the story.

I wish that the author had made up a story based on Aztec religions without using the city of Tenochtitlan because I did not get a sense of the city and people in the writing.

I'm sure that I would have a slightly different take of the story if I read the ebook vs listening. Right now, I feel like I listened to a cool, modern spin of a Greek tale v
Rachel (Kalanadi)
May 03, 2018 marked it as did-not-finish
DNF'ing at p. 110. Liked the Aztec culture, but the story and protagonist failed to excite me. ...more
I finished Servant of the Underworld the highly awaited novel debut of A. De Bodard and it's taking place in an Aztec state at some point in history - the afterword or more detailed knowledge of Aztec history indicates the date - there is magic of many kinds, intrigue, priests, warriors, "femme fatales" and a mystery of sorts through which we explore this wonderful universe.

A first person narration by a semi-disillusioned "priest of the dead" and servant of the "duality" - which essentially mean
Two stars for the worldbuilding, which kept me reading despite feelings for the main character that wavered between apathy and antipathy. de Bodard's descriptions of the social and political arrangements of the Aztec Empire are really interesting. I wish the magic had been equally interesting, but alas it seems rather D&Dish, all shields and mage sight and magic bolts (albeit fueled by blood). I would have preferred something more numinous.

Part of my frustration was that I went into this expecti
Feb 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-books, read-2015
4 Stars

Servant of the Underworld is a good fantasy and a fun start to a new series. It fails to receive full marks from me as I loathed the character names and places. They were ridiculous to me and it doesn't even matter to me if they were fitting to the time period fiction.

There are some exceptional aspects to this novel. Aliette de Bodard has created a fictional world that feels more like a non-fiction history piece. I loved the world building, the exotic setting, and the blood magic. The ch
Christi M
Those character names! Thank goodness I had an audio book so I could hear how they are pronounced. Review to come.
Apr 28, 2019 rated it liked it
The Aztec-influenced magical world that de Bodard creates is compelling, colorful and wonderfully layered. I can’t, however, say the same about her characters. Throughout the novel, I kept getting the feeling that the story was just unfolding in front of the characters rather than the characters having any influence over the events. They just seemed to be in wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe there’s a lesson about the power of fate and gods in there somewhere, but because I didn’t care much f ...more
Lawrence FitzGerald
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, 2010-s, fantasy
First of all, thank you carol.!

I generally avoid fantasy. (I wanted to strangle Bilbo Baggins with his own guts before, during and after every stinking 'song'.) But this was a really fun read and I had a great time.

Solid prose, good characterization, a mystery that began small and grew, Aztec noir.
Kara Babcock
It took me forever to read Servant of the Underworld, and I don’t know why. It’s great. Aliette de Bodard has created a mystery set in the Mexica (Aztec) Empire in 1480. As a long-lived emperor under whom the Mexica have prospered lies on his deathbed, Acatl, a priest of the dead, finds himself investigating a murder or abduction where his estranged brother is the prime suspect. And rather than making this a straight-up historical mystery, like the fantastic Falco series by Lindsey Davis, de Bod ...more
Angry Robot provides cheeky but helpful classifications on the jackets of their books; on this one, they says: "File Under: Fantasy / Aztec Mystery / Locked Room / Human Sacrifice / The Dead Walk!" Now how on earth could I resist that? As it turns out, I am very happy I didn't resist it, because within I found a very strong debut, one equal parts detective, historical, and epic fantasy novel.

The detective component was extremely satisfying. As is traditional, Acatl has a sort of semi-formal stan
Matt Brady
Acatl, high priest of the God of Death for the Mexica Empire (the civilization we know as the Azteks) is tasked with investigating the mysterious disappearance of a priestess, a case with a personal element for the priest as his warrior brother is the prime suspect. What starts as a mystery becomes something very different as Acatl uncovers secrets that threaten the entire empire and, maybe, the world.

There's a very big fantasy element to this story, one I wasn't expecting. Basically, the gods a
Feb 21, 2011 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book. Really, I did. It sounds so cool, an Aztec murder mystery? Lots of magic and religion? Unfortunately I had to call it quits on page 75 of 407.

Aliette De Bodard appears to really know her stuff, maybe a little too well. From page one, I was bombarded with info, rituals, background and names such as Mictlan, Actal-tzin, Ichtaca, Ceyaxochitl, Yaotl, Neutemoc, Xochiquetzal, Eleuia, Axayacatl-tzin... Foreign ideas, religion, culture is all cool, but I never felt as if ther
Jan 06, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
I bought this on a whim. It combines two of my favorite genres - fantasy and mystery so I was tempted as soon as I read the blurb. Then the publisher, Angry Robots, was having a sale so it only cost me a little over $3. It was well worth it and then some. A very polished effort for a debut novel.

I thought the plotting was well done, as was the characterisation, and I found the depiction of Aztec culture fascinating.

I don't rate it higher than 3 stars because it did has some clunky bits. The main
Feb 04, 2021 rated it liked it
If you’re tired of the endless parade of Vampire/Shifter/Werewolf urban fantasy novels give this one a try. Set in the heart of the Aztec empire Servant of the Underworld has a unique feel and vibe and thankfully manages to have an interesting plot and character development as well.
The setting of the novel was spectacular. A harsh world of Aztecs, where slavery flourishes and blood gets spilled at every step. It was rich in foreign names and unknown customs and I welcomed every piece of information with gratitude as I'm fascinated by the great ancient civilizations of American continents. It was definitely the greatest strength of the novel. I was impressed by the amount of research that must have gone into writing this book. I learned a lot of fascinating facts about the ...more
ᴥ Irena ᴥ
Possible spoilers
The balance between the Underworld, the Fifth World and the Heaven is maintained with blood magic. Blood sacrifices are commonplace here . Not unexpected considering the Aztecs were known for sacrificing people.

"Nothing was as precious as blood; and the most precious thing of all was the heart, which gathered all the blood and distributed it around the body."

Acatl is a reluctant High Priest of the Dead and a narrator of this story. He was summoned by Ceyaxoc
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Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris. She has won three Nebula Awards, a Locus Award, a British Fantasy Award and four British Science Fiction Association Awards. She was a double Hugo finalist for 2019 (Best Series and Best Novella). Most recently she published The House of Sundering Flames (Gollancz/JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc.), the conclusion to her Dominion of the Fallen trilogy, s ...more

Other books in the series

Obsidian and Blood (3 books)
  • Harbinger of the Storm (Obsidian and Blood, #2)
  • Master of the House of Darts (Obsidian and Blood, #3)

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
96 likes · 21 comments
“You leave behind your fine poems.
You leave behind your beautiful flowers. And the earth that was only leant to you. You ascend into the Light, O Quechomitl, you leave behind the flowers and the singing and the earth. Safe journey, O friend.”
“I still couldn’t banish the image of the Quetzal Flower. In my mind, it merged with that of Priestess Eleuia: everything a man could desire or aspire to, a woman who would suck the marrow from your bones and still leave you smiling.” 4 likes
More quotes…