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 of the Dead, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.
All things considered, not a great blurb, and definitely one that doesn’t do this title justice. Overall, it was by far one of the most interesting mysteries I’ve read, and I was intrigued from page 1 by the culture as shown in the book.
I picked the book up as a freebie at WorldCon 2013 in San Antonio, TX, along with a couple others that I’ve still got sitting in a stack. I’m not sure if the publisher was just trying to get rid of extra copies — since the book came out in the US in 2010 — or if it was more of a publicity/marketing maneuver, but whatever it was, I’m happy with it, since it allowed me the chance to read this book I would likely have otherwise browsed right past.
The core of the book is the mystery of a Priestess’ disappearance from closed and sacrosanct temple grounds. The High Priest of the Dead — of a different god than our vanished woman — Acatl is tasked by a high-ranking member of the noble elite to hunt down her kidnapper and/or killer, wherever that may take him, whatever it may cost. Acatl, who’s already dealing with family issues of his own, rapidly finds himself deep in a quagmire of politics, religion, blood and death, starting — starting! — with the arrest of his own brother for the crime.
It only gets more entangled from there, but de Bodard manages to keep everything straight through all the twists and turns, leading to an eventful, if somewhat slightly predictable, conclusion. Two-thirds of the way through the book, I had an idea of the conclusion, but I couldn’t put it down, regardless. I had to see if I was right, after all (I wasn’t).
Aside from the mystery at the center of the book, the action scenes were well done, with clear visuals provided by the author of the action as it took place. I’ve read some reviews of this title that paint the descriptions as somewhat muddled — meaning great here, nearly nonexistent there — but I didn’t find that to be the case, personally. I knew what the things I thought were important looked like while reading, and the other things, the unimportant things, I didn’t care about anyway. I think de Bodard did a fine job with this.
The biggest draw for me when I picked up the book wasn’t the mystery, or the action, but rather the idea of seeing what the Aztec culture looked like, from the inside, as it were. It’s readily apparent throughout the book that de Bodard has done her research on the Aztecs, and though there’s the occasional artistic license — it is fiction, after all — I found myself entranced by the details and nuances of the culture. The reasons behind the sacrifices, what different actions meant to different gods, even the way the gods themselves were portrayed — all provided for an excellent backdrop to the story, while at the same time not being a backdrop, at all, and being vitally connected throughout the book.
I gave the book 4 solid stars, if only because there were a few places where some judicious editing might have tightened it up a bit, a few typos, and the occasional awkwardly-worded sentence — otherwise, it would’ve had a 5-star rating. At the end of the day, though, this was a great book, and I’ll definitely be looking for the second and third books (Harbinger of the Storm and Master of the House of Darts, respectively) or more likely, just buying the collected edition.
Have you read this title? If so, leave your comments below. If not, click on the links above to buy this title through Amazon.com, then come back and let me know what you thought when you’ve read it! — JK