5 June 2012


If you haven't yet read the first in this series, Servant of the Underworld, you can find my review here. There may be spoilers for this first book in the following review.

Harbinger of the Storm (Obsidian and Blood #2)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Series: Yes, #2
UK Publisher: Angry Robot
UK Release date: January 2011
Genre: Historical fantasy

When the Revered Speaker Axayacatl-tzin dies, the fifth world is left vulnerable. Without a ruler, the Mexica Empire is no longer under the protection of Huitzilpochtli, the God of War, but is at the mercy of flesh-eating stardemons, not to mention the politics of electing a new emperor.

In order to discover who is behind the deaths of a council member and the Guardian to the Empire, Acatl, High Priest of the Dead, must throw himself into the political melee that ensues. Discovering that a stardemon was summoned from within the court means that Acatl must interview council members and become embroiled in discerning each man’s own political agenda, and figuring out who is telling the truth and who is playing a dangerous game.

When Axayacatl’s wife and sister to the ruler of neighbouring Texcoco, is found to have consorted with the murdered councilman, the mystery escalates and soon Acatl realises that the crimes are bigger than he could have imagined. Acatl will once again have to enter the god’s world of sacrifice, deception and trickery, with only the company of his fellow priests to help him survive. He must decide whether he can put aside his mistrust of politics and priests’ ambitions to save the empire.

Harbinger of the Storm is a complex murder mystery, spanning the everyday and the world of the gods. Set in Aztec culture, life is filled with danger as men struggle to gain power and favour from the menacing and unforgiving gods.

Despite his dislike of politics, Acatl is once again thrown into the midst of meddling high priests and scheming council members, of which he must decipher where the truth lies. Not trusting in politics or the men who dabble in it, Acatl is forced to fight for the future survival of the empire and put aside the ambitions and flaws of his counterparts. Although he doesn’t undergo such a dramatic personal trial as he did facing the past death of his father in Servant of the Underworld, Acatl is forced to make an important but personal decision that could affect the entire empire.

One of my favourite characters is Teomitl, brother of Axayacatl and previous sidekick to Acatl. Having fallen in love with Mihmatini, Teomitl must face his brother and heir to the throne, Tizic-tzin, who is adamant that their relationship cannot continue. Being of low rank, Mihmatini, Acatl’s sister, is deemed unworthy of being with Teomitl who will one day be heir apparent. With his patronage to Chalchiuhtlicue, Goddess of Lakes and Streams, Teomitl has become stronger and more powerful, and we see him bringing with her magical power throughout the story. He must not only learn to control his temper and rage, but must also put aside his own feelings and pride when he clashes with the ruler of Texcoco, Nezahual. Both are young and powerful, and I enjoy the interplay between the two as their personalities battle against each other.

I’m also really pleased to see Mihmatini become more involved in the story when she takes on an important role as Guardian of the Empire, which cements her relationship with Teomitl much to Tizoc-tzin’s disgust. In a very male dominated cast and after the loss of the previous Guardian Ceyaxochitl, it is good to see another female take some of the limelight, however she certainly deserves more. She is an interesting character with her own strengths as a woman and as a budding priestess. I can’t wait to see more of both her and Teomitl and how their relationship might blossom in the future.

Following on from its predecessor, Harbinger of the Storm encompasses an even greater cast of characters each with their own back stories and secrets, and it can often be confusing trying to remember who is priest of what and what each is hiding. Likewise the plot is made up of numerous twists, turns and subplots, which keep the pace fast and give a real sense of urgency to the story. It certainly left me guessing although slightly befuddled; this is not the kind of book where you could possibly predict what might happen at the end let alone in a chapters time, and it makes you feel as Acatl must – caught up in a whirlwind of mystery and intrigue.

Refreshingly new and different, Aliette de Bodard’s series has built up an impressively real and spectacular backdrop filled with Aztec culture, mythology and deities. The fast pace and intrigue pull you into a captivating world, where the fury and vengeance of the gods can change everything and no one can be trusted. One can only imagine what might happen next in Master of the House of Darts, but you can guarantee it will be a stunningly fast and furious ride of Aztec proportions.

Rating: 3.5*

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