Year One-Knife, 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, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.

But how do you find someone, living or dead, in a world where blood sacrifices are an everyday occurrence and the very gods stalk the streets?

Servant of the Underworld is the first novel by Aliette de Bodard, and was written in her second language, English. (I can’t even speak another language, let alone write in one!)

Servant of the Underworld is an intriguing murder mystery set in the capital city of the Aztec empire.  The main character, Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead, is reluctant to get involved with politics, and devoted to his duty.  During the course of the investigation, he has to explore his conflicted family history and face the consequences of his avoidance of responsibility.  I really enjoyed Acatl’s emotional growth.

All the minor characters are interesting, particularly the young warrior, Teomitl, and I want to know more about Ceyaxochitl, who seems to have plans for Acatl. (What does she know that he doesn’t?)

The mystery was interestingly complicated (but then I can never guess who’s done what, so all mysteries intrigue me) and I really liked that the stakes started out high and kept getting higher.  I loved the Aztec setting, so exotic and different, and I’m always interested in characters whose culture and mindset is different to mine.  (I’m glad Acatl wasn’t the High Priest for a god who liked human sacrifice though.)

My main problem with Servant of the Underworld was that I had trouble pronouncing the names.  This was not unexpected, with the Aztec setting, but because I had to make up pronunciation for the names (and in many cases shortened them), it delayed my immersion in the story.  I recommend that the publisher add a character and pronouciation guide to the next book.  (Similar to that in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books – finally I can correctly pronouce celtic mythological words!)

I’m very much looking forward to reading Servant of the Underworld again, and I’m sorry I have to wait for book 2, Harbinger of the Storm, to be published.  (Why does it take so much longer to write a book than it does to read one?)

In addition, I think this is the first book published by Angry Robot I have read, and I really liked the way they laid out the backcover, lots of little touches that let you know what flavour of fantasy this is, and encourage you to pick it up.