So, the discussion forum for the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts (a mouthful, ain't it?) recently had a discussion of Vietnamese literature and Vietnamese writers. Someone mentioned the French-Vietnamese writer Aliette de Bodard. What makes this so odd is that I'm reading her at this very moment. I had seen that she'd done a fantasy trilogy influenced by the Aztec empire and, since the Aztecs are a special interest of mine and don't get a lot of play in Western literature, I decided to check her out.
Halfway through the book, my judgment is halfway between "surprisingly competent" and "relentlessly mediocre." On one hand, when you hear "fantasy trilogy based on the Aztecs," things can so horrendously wrong, but de Bodard has clearly done her research. The weirdest thing is that she's writing detective fiction -- not epic fantasy -- in the Aztec world (i.e., the actual Aztecs, not just an invented secondary world influenced by Aztec culture). What primarily differentiates de Bodard's fantasy-mystery from a historical-fiction-mystery (like The Name of the Rose) is that magic actually works. Okay, that's fine, but to waste the Aztecs on a mystery novel seems odd. Still, as I said, de Bodard -- besides some quirks like oaths such as "Huitzilopochtli take him!" -- handles her source material decently well, so kudos to her.
On the other hand, she's just not a very good writer. A little too much exposition, the characterization a little too banal. The prose is rather pedestrian (which is forgiveable if the story or the characters were better). This might be my last foray into de Bodard, I think.