Fantasy Review: ‘Harbinger of the Storm’ by Alliete de Bodard

Harbinger of the Storm is the second book in the Obsidian and Blood series, and is an very good continuation of the series.  For those unfamiliar, the series is a historical fantasy set in the Aztec Empire, an empire where magic is everywhere and common, and where the gods have an active part in life.  It is also a series of murder mystery, but with magic.  Like the first book, the story is told in first person from the point of view of Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead.  Where the first book was at its core a murder mystery, the second book ups the stakes to the fate of the world itself.

Like the first book this novel is surprisingly accessible.  My knowledge of Aztec mythology is minimal, yet I never lost track of the deities or their corresponding priests.  The author is very good at dropping just enough information to keep you from getting lost, without ever slowing the story down with it.  Pacing is important to me, and this is another strength.  Acatl starts off investigating a grisly murder, and quickly gets involved in something much larger.  Escalating amounts of danger, more and more politics, and a showdown with a couple gods follow. 

While I enjoyed this novel a lot, I struggled with the magic system a bit more this time around.  In a land where gods play an active part it is hard to criticize the pure amount of magic that affected the characters, but at times it overwhelmed everything else.  Example, while the world was coming down in the form of star daemons,  Acatl and others conveniently find a loophole in a ceremony to replace a necessary Priestess who can slow the damage. 

The world is just as brutal as before, with sacrifice being a necessary part of life.  Some gods required certain animals, some human, and almost all spells require some kind of blood immediately at hand(Acatl is described cutting his earlobe numerous times).  There is no modern morality spin on this, the gods require blood and it is never second guessed. 

I enjoyed Acatl’s voice a lot more this time around, the brooding inferiority complex is mostly gone.  I was hoping for more grown from his apprentice, Teomitl, who remained a brash, impulsive young noble.  I was also surprised by the complete disappearance of women characters.  The first book had a couple of strong women who did all they could to influence events, despite the patriarchal society.  In Harbinger I counted three females, none who had a any real influence on the story. 

Pros:  As easy to read as dime store paperback murder mystery, but a lot more intelligent.  A very interesting main character, and a nice blend of building on the story, while keeping it contained in one book. 

Cons: The magic got overwhelming, and Acatl made is discoveries at just the right time a bit too much this time around.

3 stars

Followed by ‘Master of the House of Darts’

Series Review

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