Science fiction and fantasy
Harbinger of the Storm
by Aliette de Bodard
Most of the council members and other High Priests are busy scheming to get their choice of Revered Speaker voted in, so Acatl sets to work questioning them. They seem more concerned about jostling for the succession than protecting the boundaries, but Acatl realises things are falling apart. The mystery deepens when more council members are targeted, and he is accused of doing plotting of his own.
One of the odd things about Acatl's society is the concern they have over murder when human sacrifices are an accepted part of everyday life. It's a double standard that takes some cultural adjustment to understand. It's a place where the gods are as real to everyone as the soil under their feet, so death and sacrifice have a different meaning. Acatl doesn't sacrifice people, but he's forever cutting himself and butchering small animals to appease the gods or work his magic. It's all very authentic, from the frogs and newts they eat to the feather headdresses that form part of their ceremonial costumes. It's exotic and strange, and it's a small leap from that to blood spells and the otherworlds of cruel gods.
Acatl hates politics, but he finds he can't avoid it if he's to survive and do his job. He's not interested in playing power games. If it weren't for the flaws in his character he would probably seem altogether too virtuous. But his doubts about himself and those around him are what make him compelling, and that's what brings to life his alien world of monstrous gods, strict social rules and violent rituals.
Harbinger of the Storm weaves a substantial mystery in with an intriguing period of history and an intricate mythology, topped off with a set of compelling characters. It's the sort of book that will leave you much more knowledgeable without you ever suspecting you're learning things, because it's so much fun. It's also fabulously bloodthirsty.
22nd March 2011
Review © Ros Jackson
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