REVIEW: In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
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…
Dear Aliette de Bodard,
I usually love your books and I love the “Beauty and the Beast” and the books inspired by its themes, so preordering this was a no brainer. For the most part I really enjoyed it. Your words paint such a beautiful and delicate picture even when you tackle dark subjects.
When Yên’s mother, who is a village healer, summons a dragon out of desperation to help an ailing patient. The dragon strikes a bargan and demands a payment. Very soon after the patient is healed (we later learn some problematic details about that healing), village Elders are all too happy to give Yên to the dragon and while Yên herself is not happy to leave her mother and children she taught, it is all too obvious that she is not happy in the village either.
Her confidence seemed beyond low to me when I first meet her on pages of this story.
I was pretty sure that village people could have gotten a lot more “use” from her talents contrary to how Yên described herself, but my speculation was neither here nor there and off Yên goes to the spirits world.
As the blurb tells you, this world is deeply hurt, and in the spirit world Yên gets to face even more close and personal how much devastation Vanishers wrecked before they left. It is never very clear how they came to be and why they left, but their effect on the native world is pretty clear – illnesses and devastation on so many levels. It would take healers who are able to do so years to make things better, if ever – this was my impression anyway.
The book certainly pays homage to Beauty and the Beast, but I do not know if I would call it a retelling . I guess the set up is similar in a sense that a completely innocent person has to go and live/work in the presence of the entity whom she considers to be an evil/dark one.
We learn pretty fast though that Dragon, flawed as she is is not really a bad person because we see things from both Yên’s and her POV. It is a novella, so I am even more hesitant than usual to talk plot developments, but the blurb does talk about romantic attraction between the main characters, so I think I will talk a little bit about it. I absolutely believed in their chemistry and at the end of the novella I thought they may even have a future.
“She turned, found the dragon staring at her in the doorframe of a corridor framed by stars. “There’s no point in empty formalities. Let’s address each other less ceremoniously, shall we?” She’d shifted pronouns, to something that was just—barely—suitable for master and servant. “My name is Vu Côn.” “Mistress,” Yên started, and an invisible wind brushed her lips, silencing her and sending a shiver up her spine. “Vu Côn,” the dragon said. “Remember.” As if she would ever forget.”
The only nitpick I had is that in the middle of the story certain emotional beat felt off (no, I am not talking about sex). The dragon decides to do something nice for Yên and I was wondering if I missed a page or two from the story. The dragon is portrayed as a multilayered being and I wanted to see why she changed her mind. Still a very enjoyable story overall.