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Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood #1)

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  981 Ratings  ·  187 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.
Mass Market Paperback, 432 pages
Published October 26th 2010 by Angry Robot (first published January 1st 2010)
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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
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.
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
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
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
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
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 exp
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 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
Ben 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
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 Ceyaxochi
Jun 17, 2011 rated it liked it
There are quite a few urban fantasy mysteries and historical mysteries--this blends the two.

Acatl is a reluctant High Priest--he doesn't like politics, he's not very self-confident, and he has a severe case of imposter syndrome. The poor guy muddles along as best he can. He's perfectly at home with dealing with shadow beasts and other monsters from the underworld--it's people that give him trouble.

The mystery that he gets entangled in has quite a bit of personal tragedy for him. There are the u
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 08, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
This is my 3rd de Bodard and I must say, it clearly shows that this was her first novel - years back. It's a very good book with a clearly structured plotline. However, it doesn't show the lyrical writing of her shorter works or her latest 'The House of Shattered Wings'. Some of the introverties of the MC tend to be a bit repetitive, however, she get's that foible under control in the second half of the book.

The wordlbuilding is fabulous. I don't think, I read anything this detailled or (I looke
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
Mar 01, 2010 rated it liked it
This was fun. The worldbuilding seemed first rate (I don't have any practical knowledge of 1500s Aztec culture) and the relationships between the characters were engaging; particularly between the two brothers and their sister.

I did find that some of the plot was a little transparent, but not so much as to spoil the book.

What made this particularly interesting to me was that this didn't seem like a fantasy story at all; it was more of a mystery in a foreign culture or land. If you're looking fo
Sep 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Aztec fantasy built around a murder mystery. Awesome. I have no freaking idea if any of this is accurate or not but whatever, I don't care because it was still damn interesting.
In the Aztec Empire, Acatl is pulled from his duties as a funeral priest to investigate the violent disappearance of a priestess, a crime which implicates his brother. This reminds me of Amanda Downum's The Bone Palace: murder mystery as impetus to explore a fantasy setting and magic system. It's not a format I enjoy (I prefer my murder mysteries in short form); regardless, this isn't a particularly successful example of it--it's more of a plot McGuffin than a mystery that the reader can solve. ...more
Jul 28, 2017 rated it liked it

Look, I love the idea of this. And I like the way De Bodard writes.

But there's some flaws here. I read a murder mystery to read about someone solving a murder and (failing at) solving their own problems. I found the former petered out in an unsatisfactory way and there were too many of the latter, with the result nothing really developed. Acatl's problems at the temple, with his family, with his apprentice... you could have spent a whole series with what's going on here. And as a resu
Anne Lyle
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, historical
One of my favourite genres outside fantasy is historical crime, so a series that combines both is an irresistible lure to me. I was very glad, therefore, to come across de Bodard's Obsidian and Blood series, set in the pre-Columbian Aztec Empire.

Disclaimer: Aliette and I share both a publisher and an agent. I take this, not so much as bias, as an indication that our tastes are similar and attract a similar audience. It should not surprise anyone, therefore, if I enjoyed this book!

Servant of the
Sara Norja
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I usually don't read books with this much bloodshed in them, but with SotU I was prepared, because you know, Aztecs. :D

The worldbuilding was awesomely well done here: I got a really strong sense of atmosphere and place - a place and culture fascinatingly different from my own. The names, the descriptions of place, the blood magic and gods: great stuff. I also liked that the plot went from murder mystery to epic - it escalated well.

Acatl was an interesting narrator: I especially liked that we go
Sonia Lal
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Likely 3.5 stars.

This is a historical fantasy thriller refreshingly set in a non-Eurocentric world. Behold Tenochtitlan, capital of the Mexica empire, land of the Aztecs. If, like me, you have a fascination with Aztec, Mayan and Incan culture, then you will likely enjoy this book. It is a world full of the strange and the exotic, where religion rules the lives of aristocracy and masses alike. Gods roam the earth and expect constant prayer, sacrifice and adulation from their subjects.

The story is
John Wiswell
Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Acatl is a high priest of the dead, a man who can neither have the honor of having children, nor the glory of war. He lives a meaningful existence keeping peace until his brother is accused of murder. His brother Neutemoc disappears, leaving behind a room soaked in gore. Acatl immediately roams the community for leads, hoping his brother is innocent, and is quickly dragged into a conspiracy that could shake the foundations of modern divinity.

That kicks off a unique novel: a hybrid of Aztec Fanta
Oct 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Aside from the supernatural, and the fact that this thing is set in Tenochtitlan in ~1500 CE, I think this thing's genre is properly 'thriller'? Like, if 'The Pelican Brief' turned out to be about how the Pelican god was angry with you, and also you all spoke Nahuatl and your economy was based on human sacrifice?

I open with this confused attempt to categorize, because I don't think that this is, in general, my genre. Leaving aside that all the characters are participating in a system of human sa
Jun 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This series was one of the books on my unofficial "to read" list since right around when exam period began. I'd discovered Aliette de Bodard through her short fiction (her recent novella won the Nebula this year) and, even there, her ability to convey a sense of place and world in her fiction is mesmerizing. She has a sense for what the reader needs to make people-as-members-of-a-culture seem real and she gives her characters a history. One of the things I look for in fantasy is a sense that the ...more
Lawrence Kapture
Sep 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy-urban
Servant of the Underworld, by Aliette de Bodard, is a noir murder mystery set in Aztec governed Central America. Acatl, a priest of the god of the dead, is tasked to investigate the abduction of a priestess whom his brother might have been having an affair with. The abduction was performed with bloody magic. So is the investigation: every time Acatl casts a spell, he must fuel it with the blood of whatever or whomever is nearby, often his own. The investigation leads to a plot amongst the priest ...more
Nothing leapt out to me as special about this book.

There was nothing particularly strong and urgent about Acatl as a hero-narrator - he was too diffident, too opaque, too prone to only telling us about things when they entered the narrative, which made everything seem too convenient and not really personally important to him. (Particularly, here, the old apprentice who was supposed to add tension to his relationship with Teomitl but who failed to do so because he was never actually a weight on t
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I am a speculative fiction author living in Paris, with a strong taste for history and mythology. Rice addict, tea addict and nước mắm addict.
My short fiction has appeared in various professional venues, and my Aztec fantasy series "Obsidian and Blood", Servant of the Underworld, is published by Angry Robot.
My next novel is The House of Shattered Wings, set in a devastated Paris where quasi-feud
More about Aliette de Bodard...

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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“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
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