In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

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Publication Date: 16 October 2018
Publisher: JABerwocky Literary Agency
Format: eBook, ARC

Pages: 145
ASIN: B07H43M4KT

Summary: 

In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

*****

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a review

Review:

I’m not entirely certain how this happened, but I somehow managed to receive this book on the morning of a job interview, then finish it less than twelve hours later. This book was so good. In the Vanishers’ Palace does an amazing job combining science-y but still-definitely-magic magic with fascinatingly rich worldbuilding and some of the most compelling characters I’ve read this year. Despite the cover, this book was surprisingly dark. Even though de Bodard markets this book as a dark sapphic Beauty and the Beast retelling ft. dragons, this book still went places I did not expect.

First, lets talk romance. I’m not generally one for romance, but I tend to make exceptions for LGBTQ+ romance because representation. What I loved about the romance in this was that even though it was clearly there and our couple had their moments, it didn’t overshadow the rest of the plot.  Beauty and the Beast retellings often disturb me it often feels like Stockholm Syndrome is what causes romance to develop. This book has none of that. Yên and Vu Côn have some form of desire for each other the moment they meet but don’t act on it because power dynamics. The romance develops later on in a way that feels very natural and the tension between them during that time is delicious and amazing, while also staying fully consensual.

The worldbuilding in this book was absolutely stunning. This book combines Vietnamese culture with linguistic magic, set in a post-apocalyptic world where aliens (Vanishers) have conquered, enslaved, and left, leaving behind their deadly technology and creations and their even more disturbing genetic diseases. There were some truly horrifying brutal descriptions of both the symptoms of these diseases and the effects of Vanisher technology. Throughout all of this, humans are trying to make their way in life while spirits like the dragons have all but given up on the world and disappeared. The descriptions of Vanisher technology, like the palace Vu Côn lives in, are so trippy and fascinating yet morbidly beautiful. The math-y, science-y descriptions were very reminiscent of Yoon Ha Lee’s writing style.

The characters themselves are wonderfully fleshed out, especially for such a short book. Yên is a linguist fascinated with the magic of the world, but unable to cast magic of her own. She’s been stuck in her village where her skills are all but useless and fears every day that the elders may throw her to the purifying machine to keep the village safe. Her mother, the village’s only healer, also is not well regarded and is probably the only thing keeping the two of them alive. While she doesn’t get much screen time, she absolutely steals the second half of the book. My favorite characters, however, were the dragon Vu Côn and her children, Dan Thông (singular they!) and Dan Liên. Vu Côn, despite human belief, is this extremely caring doctor while her two children are adorable mischievous teenage scientists trying out their own experiments behind their mother’s back.

Overall I rate this book a 5/5. I was completely blown away by how much I loved this book: romance, worldbuilding, characters, everything. Behind everything, there are themes about motherhood and letting one’s children go and become their own person, of feeling like an outsider and trying to fit in. There is just so much crammed into a short 145 pages and it’s easily become one of my favorite books of the year.

/r/Fantasy Bingo 2018 Squares:

  • Novel Featuring a Non-Western Setting
  • Self-Published Novel
  • Novel Featuring a Library
  • Novel Published in 2018
  • Novel With Fewer Than 2500 Goodreads Ratings
  • Stand Alone Fantasy Novel
  • Novel from the /r/fantasy LGBTQ+ Database

This book will be published on 16 October 2018. You can pre-order it on Amazon here.

 

4 thoughts on “In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

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