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New Treasures: Obsidian & Blood by Aliette de Bodard

Thursday, December 6th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

obsidian-blood-smallAs a reader over 40, I have a certain responsibility to gripe about modern fantasy. To point out how things were better in my day, complain how “kids today” just don’t appreciate good writing, and dismiss current trends as crass commercialism. It’s a thankless job, but it’s been handed down to me by countless generations of grumpy old readers, and I take it seriously.

It ain’t easy, either. For one thing, I have to ignore a lot of really excellent work by Jeff VanderMeer, Neil Gaiman, Howard Andrew Jones, James Enge, John Fultz, and dozens of others, just to have any kind of credibility at all. And when a trend comes along that I really like, I have to shut the hell up about it. And trust me when I tell you, it’s hard for me to shut the hell up about anything.

For example: when I was a kid, fantasy novels went out of print all the time. If you missed ‘em, too bad for you — that was the price you paid for not getting hip to the best writers fast enough. You had to sit around and listen to all your friends talk about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, nodding along and gritting your teeth. (At least, that’s what I imagine it would have been like, if I’d had friends).

Not any more. These days when a popular paperback dies, it just returns months later in a new, improved format, like Gandalf the White. Or the Priceline Negotiator.

Case in point: Aliette de Bodard’s Acatl novels. The first, Servant of the Underworld, published in paperback by Angry Robot in October 2010, was a fascinating murder mystery set in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, where the end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice.

When a priestess disappears from a blood-drenched room, High Priest of the Dead Acatl is tasked with discovering her fate, sifting through clues in a sprawling metropolis where the gods mingle with mortals in the streets and blood sacrifices are an everyday occurrence.

Impressive stuff. The novel made a genuine splash — John Scalzi called it “Fascinating stuff, about fascinating stuff,” and Elizabeth Bear said it was “a riveting story of murder, magic and sibling rivalry.”

The sequel, Harbinger of the Storm (January 2011), found Acatl investigating the macabre discovery of a high-ranking nobleman torn to pieces by a mysterious invocation in the palace, and the third novel, Master of the House of Darts (October 2011) upped the ante even further with the coronation war for the new Emperor ending in failure, yielding a mere forty prisoners of war, far too few sacrifices to ensure the favor of the gods.

servant-of-the-underworldWhat we have here are the opening volumes in what’s sure to be a splendid career for Aliette de Bodard. Of course, you’d naturally expect her to toil a few more years in the trenches first, working long hours and watching her early novels go out of print, before gradually earning true acclaim and well-deserved fame as a fantasy superstar. At that point, her early works would triumphantly return to print, in attractive permanent editions, to be celebrated by an adoring public.

I don’t need to tell you that this career path was good enough for J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard, and really, it should be good enough for anybody. Tolkien even lived long enough to see his novels gradually become popular, the lucky sod.

Well, you know where this is going. With absolutely no regard for tradition De Bodard and her publisher, Angry Robot, have skipped the starving-artist phase entirely and jumped right to the fantasy superstar stage, putting out an attractive omnibus edition of all three Acatl novels, Obsidian & Blood.

It’s getting superstar acclaim, too (possibly because the industry is confused and doesn’t know how else to treat great-looking permanent editions, but that’s neither here nor there). And to rub salt into the wound, they didn’t even bother to wait until the original editions were out of print. It’s like they don’t understand how fantasy works.

Obviously, this leaves me conflicted. On the one hand, I love these Angry Robot omnibus editions, and have ever since I found a copy of Tim Waggoner’s The Nekropolis Archives. They are universally gorgeous, handsomely-designed and sturdy, and also very attractively priced. As trends go, it’s one I heartily approve of.

And just as obviously, it makes things difficult for a determined genre curmudgeon. It’s hard to convince people the industry’s headed to hell in a handbasket when both writers and publishers are trying — and succeeding at — daring new things.

It’s hard to be a curmudgeon today. The industry just ain’t what it used to be. Things were much easier in my day, let me tell you.

But if it’s all the same to you, let me tell you tomorrow. Because tonight, I’m curling up with a great book.

Obsidian & Blood was published in June by Angry Robot. It is 896 pages and priced at $15.99 in trade paperback, and $9.99 for the digital edition.

You can see all of our recent New Treasures articles here.

18 Comments »

  1. Kindle edition is currently 6.99 and I just bought it as I’ve always enjoyed her short fiction when I’ve come across it.

    And I seriously doubt anyone will mind us posting a link!: http://www.amazon.com/Obsidian-Blood-ebook/dp/B0076Q1H5I/

    Comment by Bill Ward - December 6, 2012 4:38 pm

  2. As a reader nearing 50, I’ve never felt such a need to gripe. ;-) Plus, besides the ones you’ve mentioned, you’d also have to forget Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which may or may not be my favorite work of fiction ever, depending on when asked, but is certainly in my top 10, and Sheri Tepper’s Marianne trilogy, one of the most creative and entertaining fantasy works I’ve ever read (and written early in her career, before she started hammering home her politics in her prose–and I say that even though I generally agree with her politics).
    I’ll definitely check out–and you know me, probably buy–Obsidian & Blood and The Nekropolis Archives, assuming I don’t already have the latter. ;-)

    Comment by awsnyde - December 6, 2012 5:15 pm

  3. I keep looking at that Angry Robot annual subscription ebook plan — the only thing that keeps me from jumping on it is that they don’t offer .mobi as a subscription option — I’d have to convert things in Calibre to read them on my Kindle. Still very, very tempting. And in the meantime, I just spent $6.99 for the omnibus.

    Comment by Joe H. - December 6, 2012 5:21 pm

  4. Um, you can read .mobi on Kindle, as far as I know (at least, I can on my old Kindle) Baen’s been offering them that way.

    Comment by pmcnamee67 - December 6, 2012 5:30 pm

  5. No, the files they offer directly from thier website (including subscription files) are only available in ePub so they’d have to be converted to .mobi for the Kindle. As I said, still very tempting, though.

    Comment by Joe H. - December 6, 2012 6:15 pm

  6. Ah, misread that, sorry. Kindle versions available from Amazon but not their own subscription service. Got it :)

    Comment by pmcnamee67 - December 6, 2012 10:25 pm

  7. Bill,

    > Kindle edition is currently 6.99

    That’s the current Amazon price, and I try to include the list price in the listing (since the prices various vendors offer vary from week to week, and often day to day).

    But you’re right, $6.99 is a real bargain for a collection of three great novels. I know what I’ll be reading on my Kindle Fire this week…

    Comment by John ONeill - December 9, 2012 6:51 pm

  8. > you’d also have to forget Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which may or may not be my favorite work of fiction ever

    Awsnyde,

    A fine pick! A genuine pity the movie adaption did so poorly — it could have introduced the books to a vaster audience.

    > And Sheri Tepper’s Marianne trilogy, one of the most creative and entertaining fantasy works I’ve ever read

    Now you’ve picked something more obscure… these books haven’t been in print in roughly a decade. I’m not as familiar with them as I should be, but you’ve certainly piqued my curiosity. Step one is to track down the paperback originals…

    Comment by John ONeill - December 9, 2012 6:55 pm

  9. John:

    I loved that movie. While I already had the books on my shelf because The Washington Post critic was a big fan, the movie is what caused me to finally read them.

    Good luck finding the Tepper books at reasonable prices. The last in particular is pricey for even “Acceptable” used copies. I paid $70 for one in reasonably good condition, though I think the prices have about halved since then. I couldn’t even find the book club omnibus collection at any price back when I bought them, but it looks like Amazon resellers have some used copies for about $35.

    Comment by awsnyde - December 9, 2012 11:31 pm

  10. I bought the omnibus after reading this article and skipped over the books lining my reading que to read it. Wow! This is incredibly good. She blends the culture, the magic, and the characters into an Aztec world. I think the author has a deep understanding of the people and tapped into a unique source.

    After reading the comments I couldn’t help but respond to aswsnyde’s remark about Sheri Tepper. I liked reading her too until her politics bled through the page and beat you over the head. The Key to Women’s Country was the last book of hers that I read. I felt as if she wanted to leap out of the book and castrate me and all my sons. I agree 100% with you aswsnyde.

    Comment by Wild Ape - December 10, 2012 7:58 am

  11. > Good luck finding the Tepper books at reasonable prices. The last in particular is pricey for even “Acceptable” used copies.

    Ouch! Right you are. I thought I had a pretty good Tepper collection, but I don’t have ANY of these books. Well, every true collector delights in a new challenge… :)

    Comment by John ONeill - December 11, 2012 12:43 am

  12. > I bought the omnibus after reading this article and skipped over the books lining my reading que to read it. Wow! This is incredibly good. She
    > blends the culture, the magic, and the characters into an Aztec world. I think the author has a deep understanding of the people and
    > tapped into a unique source.

    Glad you enjoyed it, Ape!

    > The Key to Women’s Country was the last book of hers that I read. I felt as if she wanted to leap out of the book and castrate me and all my sons.

    That explains my wife’s reaction when she read it…

    Comment by John ONeill - December 11, 2012 12:45 am

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