Book review · novel

Book review: In the Vanishers’ Palace

In the Vanishers’ Palace, by Aliette de Bodard

in the vanishers palace coverSynopsis:  (from the author’s website)

From the award-winning author of the Dominion of the Fallen series comes a dark retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

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…

Publication date: October 16th 2018
A review copy (eARC) of this book was provided by the author. 

In the Vanishers’ Palace is a dark sapphic Beauty and the Beast retelling that doesn’t fall into the traps of such stories. It is more of a strong inspiration really, set in a world in ruins with Vietnamese-only characters and shapeshifting dragons. The cast is mostly women and non-binary characters, and I found great that there were more than just one person using non-binary pronouns, thus avoiding the dehumanisation of such identity if it had had only a non-humain character using these.

The romance is a great one to follow, both women know of the power imbalance of their relationship. There is no abuse here, no issues of shady consent, there is only respect, care and mutual attraction, not without doubts and uncertainty, that are handled carefully.

With themes of family, belonging and motherhood, healing and scholarly activities, the novella touches on many topics and handled them perfectly. It features a magical and scifi-ish library, a scary palace with weird geometry, anciant evil, great linguistic elements, all the food and tea, and sexy times that will appeal to people who like human/non-human-and-big-scaly-creature action.
The magic system combining hand movement and language was really cool, as well as the fact that the main character cannot handle such magic and has to turn to other studies.

After the great The Tea Master and the Detective last spring, a Sherlock Holmes retelling with two women and one of them a spaceship, Aliette de Bodard is on a roll: In the Vanishers’ Palace succeeds in being a retelling conscious of the danger and appeal of the original tale, with an engaging couple, great supporting characters, vivid writing and original setting with magic, myths and science.

content warning: suicidal ideation, gruesome death, plague

If the gorgeous cover art by Kelsey Liggett wasn’t enought, here is a pinterest board I made while reading! The author made me the honor to include it on the book’s page on her website alongside the one she made herself. If this doesn’t interest you, she also made a cool AO3 style tags for the story.

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