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Reading Snapshot: November 13th

November 13, 2014

Servant of the Underworld
Today finds me happily ensconced in Aliette de Bodard’s Servant of the Underworld, a novel I heard about at Chasing Bawa. It’s an impressive transgenre piece: set in the Aztec empire, with a murder mystery plot, and a fantasy element in that all of the Aztec mythology is actually true. The main character, Acatl, as High Priest of the Dead, can carry out spells, commune with gods, and discover terrifying magical creatures. Now, I had this book out from the library for awhile before I started it, because in the back of my head I was a bit concerned about it going terribly wrong. The plot summary left me intrigued but worried, as I’m sure it has some of you.

You can leave your worries behind, though. Bodard handles it with such aplomb I continually forget she did not actually live in Aztec Mexico. Her world building is all done organically, with the reader thrown in to Acatl’s head and picking up on specifics as the plots goes along. This is my favourite approach to speculative and historical fiction; it requires the most trust on the author’s part, and a willingness to cherry pick the background research I’m sure, but it creates such a fulfilling reading experience. Not to mention, a rip roaring plot and well-rounded but very *different* characters: this book has it all. I managed to stay completely engrossed in the story even as I spent an hour and a half in an uncomfortable waiting room full of talking people this afternoon; if that’s not high praise I don’t know what is! I must admit, I’m sure I get a bit of extra pleasure from being reminded of the wonderful time I spent in Mexico City a couple of years ago, which involved a fair amount of Aztec exploration, and some historical reading in preparation. I ended up completely enchanted by el D.F., and if the Aztecs are significantly less enchanting in the particulars, they are certainly fascinating, an aspect Bodard is bringing to vivid life.

I’m especially pleased to be in the middle of a longer novel (413 pages in my copy), as it provides a nice change from a rash of shorter fiction I read this week. There is certainly something to be said for slim books that can be read and processed over a single leisurely sitting or two, but inevitably they leave me longing for a bigger book that I can spend more time in. And lucky for me, de Bodard has made this the first in a trilogy, so I can spend even more hours in such an entrancing world!

Just writing this has made me impatient to get back into it. But I also visited the library today and brought home piles of nonfiction books, so I’ll try to get a video about that up tomorrow. For now, though, I’m back to following Acatl’s footsteps! I do love reading. :)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. aartichapati permalink
    November 14, 2014 7:05 pm

    If you DO want some slim fiction that you can read in a sitting or two, de Bodard writes really great feminist sci fi, too! I definitely want to read this one. And I bet if you enjoyed this novel, you would like her novellas.

  2. November 16, 2014 11:05 am

    Brilliant, sounds great! I’ve never heard of de Bodard before, but with you and Aarti both recommending her, it’s clear she needs to go onto my list.

    I’m the same about reading slim vs fat books, or ebooks vs physical books, or even various genres. I’ll get into phases of reading all one type of thing, and then I absolutely must have the other thing. I’ve just been reading loads of nonfiction, and I’m transitioning into a phase where I’m craving some really absorbing and well-plotted fiction (a hard beast to find!)

    • November 16, 2014 8:18 pm

      Dorothy Dunnett? Deborah Crombie? Elizabeth Nunez? NK Jemisin? I’m sure I could go on forever, but there are a few authors that I find utterly absorbing & that I think have good plots (I’m much fussier about writing style & characters & even setting than I am about plot, so probably not the best judge).

      Oh and Lois McMaster Bujold of course, who is my latest obsession. Very absorbing & fascinating plots! I don’t think you can go wrong with any of her series.

  3. November 17, 2014 11:03 am

    I need to get to her Aztec stories as I’ve enjoyed all of the other work of hers that I’ve read. She is one of the bright stars out there right now and I hope more people discover her work.

  4. November 17, 2014 8:39 pm

    Oh good! I think I had added this to my to-read list based on your Library Loot post, so I’m glad to know that it’s turning out well.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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