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Death is the beginning

Harbinger of the Storm  (Obsidian and Blood, volume 2)

By Aliette de Bodard 

19 Jan, 2016

Miscellaneous Reviews


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2011’s Harbinger of the Storm is the second volume in Aliette de Bodard’s Obsidian and Blood Trilogy.

Acatl, Tenochtitlan’s High Priest of the Dead, knows immediately when the Revered Speaker Axayacatl, Emperor of the Mexica, dies. The Emperor was vital to the maintenance of the wards that protect his empire from star demons, and his death has weakened the wards. A new emperor must be installed … quickly!

The new emperor will be chosen by the council, but the council finds itself under attack. A star demon has invaded the imperial palace and dismembered one of the councillors. Since the wards are only weakened, not gone, the star demon could not have entered without inside help. Some human sorcerer is meddling. It is up to Acatl to discover the identity and motives of the culprit, then frustrate the plot.

Although the late emperor had chosen Tizoc-tzin as his heir, his preference is not legally binding. The council has the final word. It customarily chooses the previous emperor’s preferred heir, but there have been exceptions. The councillor who was killed was a supporter of Tizoc-Tzin. Perhaps a rival is trying to prevent Tizoc-tzin from gaining power. Or perhaps not.… Is an ambitious god interfering, with some subtle scheme in mind? Could it be that something even more fundamental to the world’s magic is awry? As the magical attacks on the council escalate, Acatl finds himself under ever more pressure to solve the riddle. 

Acatl has tried to avoid politics to the extent that he could. Theology is ever so much safer. But if he is to find the source of the brutal attacks on the council, he is going to have to unravel the densely interwoven nest of plots that passes for Mexican politics. 

The stakes may be the world itself.


Living gods who take an active interest in the world sure are pesky. The Fifth World is particularly unlucky, because it will collapse unless sustained with ritual and sacrifice. Dedicated professionals like Acatl spend their lives trying to ensure that their world survives … for the moment. They can only delay the end of their world, they cannot prevent it forever. Eventually something will go wrong, something that priests and gods cannot combat.. On that day, Acatl’s world will die. 

Having established her Aztec setting in the first volume of the series, de Bodard can focus on character and plot in the second. Well, plots. The political culture of Tenochtitlan runs to multiple plots. You can hardly turn a corner without running into someone plotting to take the throne or release a dark and malevolent god. Acatl’s problem is working out which of the dozens of competing schemes is causing the current crisis. 

De Bodard’s priestly protagonist is rather poorly suited to the task at hand, as he has actively avoided learning anything about palace politics. Bad for him, but useful for the reader. As Acatl unravels the weave of plots, so do we. 

This is the middle book of a fantasy trilogy, but I can assure readers that because de Bodard’s model is the mystery novel, each book stands on its own. That said, events in one book set up events in the next. You can read them in any order, but I recommend that you read them in publication order: Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts.

All three of the Obsidian and Blood books have been reissued in ebook form. Harbinger may be purchased here, here and here.Yay, because it was my impression the second volume could be hard to find on its own.