REVIEW: The House of Binding Thorns (Dominion of Fallen #2) by Aliette de Bodard
As the city rebuilds from the onslaught of sorcery that nearly destroyed it, the great Houses of Paris, ruled by Fallen angels, still contest one another for control over the capital.
House Silverspires was once the most powerful, but just as it sought to rise again, an ancient evil brought it low. Phillippe, an immortal who escaped the carnage, has a singular goal—to resurrect someone he lost. But the cost of such magic might be more than he can bear.
In House Hawthorn, Madeleine the alchemist has had her addiction to angel essence savagely broken. Struggling to live on, she is forced on a perilous diplomatic mission to the underwater dragon kingdom—and finds herself in the midst of intrigues that have already caused one previous emissary to mysteriously disappear….
As the Houses seek a peace more devastating than war, those caught between new fears and old hatreds must find strength—or fall prey to a magic that seeks to bind all to its will.
Dear Aliette de Bodard,
Sunita introduced me to your work and I am so happy that she did. She and Janine did a comprehensive review of the first book in this trilogy here at DA, therefore please beware of the possible spoilers for the first book in my review as well. I am not planning to do any big reveals, but there are things I want to talk about that may turn out spoilerish.
As the blurb tells you, House Silverspires was dealt a terrible blow in the first book and in this part of the story we hear very little about them (mostly that they are licking their wounds and their Head of the house is cautiously reaching out to other houses). The center of this book involves House Hawthorn and also the mysterious underwater dragon kingdom which was briefly mentioned in the first book.
Those who have read the first book know that Asmodeus takes Madeleine back to House Hawthorn at the end and their doctor is treating her addiction to angel essence – a substance which is a magic of the Fallen but also can lead to horrible addiction. Madeleine is trying to fight it off, but it is not easy for her and I thought that but for her consuming fear of Asmodeus she probably would have given up fighting at all.
But Asmodeus gives her a choice (which is not much of a choice unless one fancies dying faster rather than dying from torture), and Madeleine tries to bring herself back to the land of living, because he wants her to be one of the envoys to the dragons and he may need her to use her magical skills. Supposedly other people will be doing something complicated and Madeleine will only need to do something simple magic wise.
Of course we all know what usually comes out of any “you will not have to do anything complicated” promise that one character makes to another, but off to the underwater kingdom Madeleine goes, together with Clotilde and Efron.
Apparently they are supposed to negotiate the marriage between Asmodeus and one of the dragon princes – I hesitate to call Asmodeus gay, but those who read the first book know that he used to have a male lover, another Fallen who died as part of what happened. Come to think of that since we know that Fallen can change bodies, does their gender even matter? I think the very strong implication is that they cannot change bodies every day at will, that it only happens between their lifetimes, so for now Asmodeus is very much male and very much prefers male lovers, so he sends his envoy to negotiate stronger ties with the dragon kingdom and get himself a consort.
Of course with Asmodeus one can never be sure of his real goals, and we know that although he would do anything to protect his House and his dependents, he won’t hesitate to be ruthless toward the “outsiders” (his word) if the House is threatened. He can torture and kill people, but he will also protect those who are part of Hawthorn no matter the personal costs to him. And I am still amazed as to how much the author made me care for his character. Good writing can change any (or almost any) preconceived ideas of what I like or dislike in the characters, or in the story itself. Asmodeus is a power-hungry piece of work who took over the House from the previous Head and spilled so much blood, just so much blood, and the narrative makes no excuses for that – the people who died did not deserve it, and yet I still hope that he will have a future to live in.
I won’t tell you what problems Madeleine and the others encounter in the dragon kingdom, but encounter problems they do, especially since dragons have their own issues to deal with. It all becomes entangled with the Houses’ problems in an intricate mess. Power struggles underneath the water threaten them, and they have already been weakened because somebody is supplying them with deadly Angel essence. Is Hawthorn involved in this awful trade? What does Asmodeus really want from the dragons and will he end up being married to anybody?
I have to mention how much I loved the writing in this book. It is so beautiful, so clear, I wanted to savor every word, but where the dragons are concerned, it also has a dreamlike quality. The author mentioned that her dragons do not spill fire, they are water dragons and have Vietnamese origins and sometimes I felt like I was looking at them through the waters of the Seine, which made sense I suppose.
I also really appreciated that we get to see some of Vietnamese community in Paris (as it exists in this world) and Phillippe’s connections to it are explored in more depth. I just wanted some happiness for poor guy and I am keeping my fingers crossed, especially since one of the themes of the book seems to be that things can change for the better and a happy future rather than death is a possible outcome for many characters.
This is the second book of a trilogy, but I did not think that this installment had any of the issues that second books sometimes have for me. The characters’ arcs were explored in more depth, the story moved forward, there was plenty of action, a lot of questions were answered (but not all of them), and there is no cliffhanger.
All in all, it is the best book I have read so far this year.