Book Review: Master of the House of Darts, by Aliette de Bodard

masterofthehouseofdartsWhen we left Acatl, the High Priest of Michtlantecuhtli, Lord of the Dead, at the end of Harbinger of the Storm, he’d just played an instrumental role in deferring the end of the world by thwarting an attempted coup and bringing Tizoc-tzin, Revered Speaker of the Tenochtitlan city-state and ruler of the Mexica Empire, back to the land of the living. Acatl’s pupil and protégé Teomitl was firmly established as military commander—Master of the House of Darts and presumptive heir to the throne. Along the way, Acatl faced down a fistful of Aztec deities and earned the grudging respect of the other High Priests. He’d even come a long way toward healing his strained family ties. Life was good, as much as life poised on the edge of apocalypse and the dawning of a new age could be.

The final episode of Alliette de Bodard’s Obsidian and Blood trilogy opens as Tizoc-tzin returns from a less-than-spectacular victory over a neighboring rival. The battle was meant to solidify his authority by demonstrating his prowess on the battlefield and his ability to deliver human sacrifices to sate the gods’ never-ending bloodlust, but he arrives home with only a handful of captives, and the victory ceremony is cut short when they suddenly fall victim to an unknown plague that is both deadly and virulent.

Acatl’s heightened senses confirm this is no ordinary disease. It reeks of evil magic and treachery. Powerful forces want to topple the Revered Speaker and his government. Acatl will have to lay aside his comfortable routine of priestly ministry once again to solve the mystery and avert disaster. Time is short—there are precious few clues to the identity of the perpetrator and their motive. Meanwhile, the plague is spreading like wildfire and threatens to consume the population of Tenochtitlan.

Even worse, there are disquieting hints that Teomitl is making secret preparations to seize the throne by force. Could the young royal whom Acatl loves like his own son be behind the plot?

Master of the House of Darts continues in much the same vein as the first two books in the author’s Obsidian and Blood series, as reluctant investigator Acatl must employ his otherworldly talents and deductive skills to solve a magically-enhanced murder that’s straining the boundaries between the physical and spiritual realms. He continues to grow in skill as a detective and moves with more confidence among his peers as he navigates court intrigues and copes with powerful rivals. This case raises new challenges: the obvious suspects seem as dismayed and befuddled as Acatl, and his relationship with Teomitl, a source of strength and encouragement until now, is called into question as the young Master of the House of Darts seems to be falling victim to a lust for power. Teomitl’s ambitions might even be justified—his brother Tizoc-tzin is more than figuratively a ghost of his former self, paranoid and indecisive. Aztec culture has no place for a weak or diffident leader who could leave his subjects vulnerable to invasion and enslavement.

This is a solid mystery yarn spiced with supernatural elements and memorable characters, set in an intriguing society that heretofore has received little attention from either the spec-fic or mystery communities (the author provides a section at the end with historical notes and some details of her background research). It’s a fine conclusion to the trilogy. Once again, Aliette de Bodard does not disappoint.

The only thing that nags at me after finishing this series is the lingering question of how the thrice-averted apocalypse might play out for Acatl and his community when it comes to pass. According to the approximate historical timeline the author references, Teomitl would be the last strong ruler of Tenochtitlan. His son Cuauhtemoc would occupy the throne when the Conquistadors arrived and the Aztec city-states were thrown into disarray. How might Acatl (should he still be alive) experience this from his unique vantage point with a foot in both physical and spiritual worlds? How would he interpret the causes and outcomes of such a cataclysmic event? What would he see happening within the Aztec pantheon? Ms. de Bodard has moved on to other projects, and I don’t expect we’ll see these questions answered in a follow-up novel or novels, but I’d still love to find out.


Link to purchase Master of the House of Darts

Link to purchase Harbinger of the Storm

Link to purchase Servant of the Underworld

Link to purchase the Obsidian and Blood trilogy in a single volume

Aliette de Bodard’s author website

Prior reviews in this series: Servant of the Underworld   Harbinger of the Storm

More posts about Aliette de Bodard and her stories

>>This review is based upon a paperback copy of the book graciously provided by the author, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits. Apologies to Aliette for taking so long to post this review.<<

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