Harbinger of the Storm by Aliette de Bodard. Book review

Harbinger of the Storm (Obsidian & Blood volume II)
by Aliette de Bodard. Angry Robot (2011) ‘7.99

Reviewed by Jim Steel

Much of contemporary fantasy that has a historical setting feels false because it is impossible to see how it evolved or how it remains in stasis. De Bodard has realised that there should be little difference between a society that interacts with supernatural agencies and one that merely believes that it does and behaves accordingly. Her portrayal of the late pre-Columbian Aztec Empire has the ring of veracity while at the same time displaying something that is stranger to us than most science-fictional alien worlds. This vivid, pathological society works.

Set a year or so after the events in Servant of the Underworld, this stand-alone novel is again the first-person narrative of Acatl, High Priest of the Dead. The emperor is dead and soon other deaths follow; someone is trying to wrest control of the empire. People are being ripped apart by star-demons and few can be trusted, but it is essential that a new emperor is chosen quickly to prevent the fall of the cosmic hierarchy. At times, especially in the earlier parts, the novel pushes close to noir territory but, as it progresses and the gods make their appearance, it develops into something unique.

De Bodard provides us with a guide to the characters (handy, as the unfamiliar construction of the names mean that careful attention is needed), a reading list and comprehensive notes on the Aztecs. Given the timescale of the series, it is going to be fascinating to see where she goes after this. Highly recommended.