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Magical Mysteries in the Time of the Aztec Empire: An Interview with Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard, a 2009 finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, wraps up her Obsidian and Blood trilogy this November with Master of the House of Darts. The series is a “cross between a historical Aztec fantasy and a murder-mystery, featuring ghostly jaguars, bloodthirsty gods and fingernail-eating monsters.”

In all three installments, de Bodard masters the atmospherics needed to pull readers into this dark and magical world. The protagonist, Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead in charge of the Sacred Precinct, a position that can be thought of as a mix between priest and coroner, is a sympathetic character with personality flaws that transcend time and culture. Time and again he finds himself unwillingly dragged into impossible investigations and forced to confront both internal struggles and external demons.

Vivid imagery, flowing prose, and natural dialogue are at the heart of de Bodard’s writing. One of the most original storytellers out there, Aliette merges her love of mythology and her desire to bring more non-Western influences to the science fiction and fantasy realm.

Aliette and I talked about the days of the Aztec Empire, the trouble with mainstream narratives, and how to pitch a book idea on the fly.

The Obsidian and Blood series takes place during the time of the Aztec Empire. This civilization was wiped out in the early 1500s by Spanish colonizers and what’s known about them is largely taken from archaeological digs. You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that part of your motivation in writing this series was to repair the damage done to their legacy. I hope I’m being accurate, feel free to correct me. What was most important to you when you sat down to recreate this world?

What was most important to me was to present the world in a fair way: as you mention, a lot of the narratives we have around the Mexica/Aztecs are Spanish ones, and the surface ones are deeply biased. I’ve mentioned it in other inteviews, but I was always struck by how often narratives reach for the Mexica when they need a bloodthirsty, evil culture. And it seems… wrong. I have issues with caricatures; and I don’t believe every single aspect of a culture can be irredeemably evil. Plus, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the conquistadors were hardly saints or trustworthy witnesses, and when I set out to tell stories set in the heyday of the Mexica Empire, what I wanted was to avoid falling into the same clichéd depiction of the culture. I’m no Nahuatl, but I did try my best to research the culture and bring to light its achievements.

What achievements did you unearth during your research?

Once you get past the stumbling block of human sacrifices, you realise that the Mexica civilisation was a very advanced one in many respects–that they had fantastic astronomy and medicine, that their women had vast amounts of rights compared to most medieval civilisations, and that their justice system was harsh, but much fairer than its English or French equivalent, putting the onus of responsibility on noblemen (who could afford to respect the prohibitions) rather than on commoners (who couldn’t).

And what about the notion that we only have archaeological digs to go on?

Archaeological digs aren’t the only source. We have at least three major sources for the Mexica civilisation: the remaining Nahuatl people in Mexico, though they did not fare well under Spanish rule; the accounts of the Spaniards such as the Codex Florentine, who attempt to account for the civilisation they destroyed, but which are–naturally–hardly free of bias; and finally, the archaeological digs themselves, though those are made difficult because the Spanish were thorough in destroying anything Mexica they could find, and also because Tenochtitlan itself is under Mexico City, not the most propitious of places to dig.

Read the rest at The Faster Times
Buy Master of the House of Darts at Indiebound

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Written by Gabrielle

October 25, 2011 at 5:35 am

2 Responses

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  1. I’ve been eyeing this series for awhile…it’s not moved WAY up in the TBR! Thanks for the great interview, Gabrielle!

    Kristin

    October 25, 2011 at 11:25 am

    • nice! really well-written and great world. you’ll love it.

      Gabrielle

      October 25, 2011 at 11:26 am


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