Book Review: In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard | Wyrd & Wonder 2020

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Genre : Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher : JABberwocky Literary Agency

Length : 145 pages

Format : eARC

Rating : 3 stars

Publication Date : October 16th 2018

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

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…

Book Review

In the Vanishers’ Palace is a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in a Vietnamese-inspired historical world. It follows Yên, a young and unlucky scholar. Unlike her mother, she is incapable of using magic to heal people so, she’s seen as useless by the heads of her village. One day, her mother asks for the help of a dragon spirit, Vu Côn, to heal the daughter of a noble. The dragon helps her but asks for her life in exchange. Yên decides to sacrifice herself to the dragon instead to protect her mother. She doesn’t expect Vu Côn to, not only allow her to live but, to also bring her back to her palace.

I’ve been intrigued by this story for years because it combines a lot of elements that I usually like in stories. The main character is a scholar, it has dragons, a lesbian relationship and an historical Asian-inspired setting. However, while I enjoyed several elements of the story, a couple things tainted my enjoyment of this book.

First, let’s start with the good: the world created by De Bodard was fascinating. She did a fantastic job at creating a great sense of atmosphere. I could easily picture the world, the characters, the clothes and the buildings. Vu Côn’s palace reminded me a lot of Hogwarts in the way some rooms could appear and disappear according to the characters’ will. It also had an amazing library (you just need to ask for a book and it appears!) that I really wanted to visit. I was immediately pulled into the world after only a couple of pages and I thought I was really going to love the novella… until the Beauty and the Beast element started to play a role in the story.

The romantic relationship between the Yên and Vu Côn plays a big part in the story. We are supposed to believe that they have an immediate and strong attraction for each other the moment they meet and, that in a few days, they are in love.

While I can understand why Yên, a poor scholar who has never see anything outside of her small village and who is treated like an outcast by her people, would by impressed by Vu Côn. She’s after all a freakin’ immortal dragon. I would also be impressed. However, I don’t get what Vu Côn saw in Yên and I don’t see why I should believe in their immediate romance. I might sound harsh toward Yên’s character but, except whining about her lost village and dreaming about Vu Côn, she didn’t do much to earn my sympathy. She isn’t even much of a scholar: she is imprisoned in a very old and mysterious palace that was built by the Vanishers, people that used to rule her world and, she doesn’t even try to learn more about them.

In the end, I just wished the story wasn’t so focused on the romance between Yên and Vu Côn. Since I didn’t get their relationship, my personal enjoyment of the story of hindered quite a bit. The plot and the imaginative world were not enough to save this novella in my mind, though, I would really like to read other stories set in the same world. I think De Bodard is really good at crafting fascinating worlds.

Three stars.

 

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Netgalley and Jabberwocky Literary Agency. All opinions are my own.

Credits: Flaming phoenix by Sujono Sujono | Decorative phoenix by Tanantachai Sirival

9 thoughts on “Book Review: In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard | Wyrd & Wonder 2020

      1. I can wholeheartedly recommend Robin McKinley’s retellings – she actually loves this fairy-tale so much she wrote two of them 😂 “Rose Daughter” and “Beauty” – I prefer the latter, but both are worth reading.

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