Book Review – Servant of the Underworld

by Rose Hill

People have been telling me to read Servant of the Underworld since I published my very first short story, “Rain Child.”  The reason for this is abundantly clear–both are set within the priesthoods of fantasy Tenochtitlan.

Anyone familiar with my blog is probably well aware of my complaints about religion in fantasy–particularly the shoddy way polytheism is typically displayed.  This hits none of those problems.  It treats polytheism in a serious way, one that is true to the characters and affects every part of their lives.  You see daily rituals, larger rituals, prayers, sacrifices, offerings, all treated as perfectly normal and acceptable.  This is religion in fantasy written right.

The ease with which de Bodard immersed us in Tenochtitlan was stunning. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know every word, because the meaning is made clear and explained in the book.  For those who want further reference, there’s an appendix of terms in the back as well.

You know what else is in the back?  A list of related reading–research books about Tenochtitlan.  I’m definitely going to pick up at least two of those.  Now, maybe I just don’t read enough historical fantasy to know if this is a common thing, but I definitely loved that inclusion.  And to be honest, this is the first historical fantasy novel I think I’ve ever been interested in.  The non-Western setting was wonderfully refreshing and superbly researched.

Now, I’ve raved a fair bit about this book without going into the plot or characters, but that’s because Servant of the Underworld reminds me of what I love best about fantasy–a beautifully constructed world to immerse yourself in.  But that’s not to say that the plot or characters weren’t enjoyable.  Acatl’s desire for a peaceful life, thwarted by murder and political drama, is very relatable.  Mihmatini is a wonderfully competent little sister who has grown up without her brother’s notice.  The ever-growing mystery kept me guessing all the way to the end.  The tension stays high enough to keep you turning the pages and picking it back up.  But what I loved the most was the beautiful worldbuilding.

Recommended for: People who want non-Western fantasy, fans of mysteries, someone looking for a new voice in fantasy, worldbuilders