Aliette de Bodard
Harbinger of the Storm
Our fourth Blog Tour guest is Aztec Dark Fantasy author Aliette de Bodard.
Harbinger of the Storm is the second book in the Obsidian and Blood trilogy. It combines Mesoamerican mythology with political turmoil, court intrigue, and some good old-fashioned murder.
The Obsidian and Blood series is nearly complete now, and I presume the final book is almost finished. Are you satisfied with the way the trilogy turned out?
The final book is still being written, but yes, it will soon be finished, and I have a good idea of how it will end. From a purely storytelling point, I'm happy with how the trilogy turned out--I used a format of standalone books with recurring characters (much like mystery series), and was able to gradually develop them. I'm glad, too, that successive books have enabled me to complexify the universe: if you stop at book 1, there is a particular god who comes across as the local incarnation of the Evil Lord, but as you read through books 2 and 3, it becomes clear that all gods act according to their nature, and that even the "good" gods, the ones that protect the Mexica Empire, can be savage and cruel when it suits them.
I guess there'll always be other areas of the setting I wish I had explored: while writing book 3, for instance, I had this awesome idea about my main character; but all in all, it's definitely been a satisfying ride, and book 3 concludes a lot of the untied threads from the unifying story arc.
Your fiction often features non-Western civilizations, especially Aztecs. Is there a particular reason why Mesoamerica holds your attention?
When I started writing and wanted to focus on historical civilisations, I picked the Aztecs for a couple of reasons: the first was that it was a mythology and culture I was pretty much unfamiliar with (unlike, say, Ancient Greece, which I had studied extensively both in school and outside of it). The second was a desire to find out more about the culture: we'd touched on Mesoamerica briefly in Spanish classes, and I'd been struck by the portrayal of a bloodthirsty, barbaric people--almost bogeymen for the Spanish conquistadores. Of course, it doesn't take rocket science to figure out that the conquistadores were hardly the most reliable or nicest of people, so I was curious to find out how much had been deformed in the Spanish retelling of Aztec culture. And, boy, there had been a lot. I don't necessarily approve of mass human sacrifices, the way the Aztecs practiced them, but if you read around, you can see how, for this particularly culture, sacrifices would have been necessary: they kept the world from ending, and what were a few deaths in a world where deaths were so common and so completely random?
Also, for all their bloodthirstiness, they were a very fair people: I've already mentioned elsewhere, but their justice system was more severe towards noblemen than commoners, because they assumed that noblemen would have a better chance to get a good education; and should stand as examples. A nobleman who was drunk got executed, whereas a commoner was let off with a warning. One detail I've always found telling in the Aztec-Spanish relationship and which speaks volumes about two radically different world-views, is that when the Spanish started torturing people (either for purposes of getting confessions out of criminals, or just to find out where they'd hidden the gold), the Aztecs just couldn't understand why they would do that. Their own justice system didn't include torture, because to them, pain was something sacred, something you offered to the gods along with blood, and to use it for purely mundane problems just felt... wrong to them, a cheapening of a religious act.
Having met you in person, I can say with some authority that you have an extremely gentle personality. So where do all the blood and guts in your fiction come from? Are you hiding an evil twin in your basement?
Ha, but we don't have a basement :) Seriously, those things do come from a darker side--sadly, I don't need to be especially violent or even imaginative to add blood and guts in my fiction. I just need to turn back to history and read a bit to find all the gore I could ever wish for. It's something that frightens me a fair bit--as you guessed, I am not a violent person, but I see it all too often, and it sickens and scares me in equal measures. Which is a great motivator for adding it into my story; whatever my characters think of it, they'll have to confront violence and blood, and I think a great indicator of who they are is how they react: if they are scared like I am, inured to it, think it a necessary evil, regret the loss of life.... Also, of course, it's a great way to add tension, because violence is such a shattering act in the weave of a narrative.
What's the best writing advice you've ever been given?
Hum, it's a bit cheeky, but I always thought the best advice I heard was by Orson Scott Card at his Literary Bootcamp: "you have to understand rules so you can understand when it's not only OK, but necessary to break them". That's always struck me as very sensible: get enough distance and comprehension of current writing mores, so that you can depart from them and craft your own thing.
Thank you Aliette. For readers, a detailed review of this book is available at Val's Random Comments, and you can find Aliette's blog here.
Coming up tomorrow: John Brown and his epic fantasy novel, Servant of a Dark God.