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...
Advance praise for In the Vanishers’ Palace
“Another stellar offering by Bodard. Her signature intensity is on display in this tale of people (and dragons) struggling to survive in the ruins of an alien conquest. Emotionally complex relationships interweave with richly drawn and deftly nuanced world-building.” —Kate Elliott, author of the Court of Fives series
“A transformative experience. With dragons.” —Fran Wilde, Hugo and Nebula nominated author of The Bone Universe and The Gemworld series
Beauty, Beast, and Family
It’s not a secret that “In the Vanisher’s Palace” is a queer and gender-changed retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”; the description of the book in Aliette de Bodard’s blog is
“a queer retelling of Beauty and the Beast, except in a setting
inspired by Vietnamese folklore–drawing from all those stories
my mother and grandmother told me, the ones with scholar-
magicians and dragons and kỳ lân and rooster spirits, where
words had the weight of magic. “
But it’s so much more. It’s about families and communities; what we owe them and what we owe the families we inherit versus the families we create. It’s about free will and hierarchy, about masters and slaves, and down at the bottom what the phrase “No Gods, No Masters” has to mean as a rejection rather than an existential statement.
And for all that it takes place in a fantastical, science fictional alternate world, in a culture that’s probably not familiar to most (especially Western) readers, it’s very much about the possible endstate of the world we see around us now in Western European society.
But it’s also a queer, posthuman lovestory with a happy ending, and as I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for them.
The exquisite writing that I’ve come to expect from de Bodard
One of the reasons I anxiously anticipate every new Aliette de Bodard release is because I can just assume there will be casual queerness somewhere in every story. (Note: I’m not entirely fond of the wording “incidental lesbians” that has become popular in lesfic circles because I’m not interested in either the characters or their orientations being “incidental”--I want them to be essential to the story, just not in a way that makes orientation or identity itself the essence of the story. For me “casual queerness” better evokes the thing that makes me happy.)
In the Vanishers’ Palace not only has casual queerness, it has casual Vietnamese-rooted fantasy in a post-apocalyptic, post-colonial setting that evokes the experience of having had your entire world and culture trampled and ruined, without direct reference to specific historic events. But that’s only the context, not the story itself.
Yên is a failed scholar, trying to help her mother heal their fellow villagers of the myriad plagues left by the genetic tinkering of the departed Vanishers. Vu Côn is a dragon--a shape-shifting river spirit. Her healing assistance can be begged for a price. When Yên’s mother heals the daughter of an important family with Vu Côn’s help, her own life is that price and Yên is driven both by filial piety and despair to demand to take her place.
As the story is billed as a Beauty and the Beast take-off, one may easily (and correctly) guess where this is going, but beyond the theme of falling in love with a frightening creature, don’t expect the plot to follow the traditional lines. The in-story forces that keep Yên and Vu Côn at arms’ length rise out of the cultural setting: the social dynamics of status and respect, the power differential when supernatural creatures are involved, but with not even a hint that the same-sex aspect is a relevant issue. That’s what I mean by “casual” queerness. And as we delve deeper into the looming dangers of the Vanishers’ palace--a warped space of impossible geometries and fatal traps--the fantasy trappings merge seamlessly with science-fictional ones to create a genre that defies categories.
The happy ending never feels guaranteed, despite genre expectations, making it feel well-earned. In sum: I loved loved loved this novella, both for the exquisite writing that I’ve come to expect from de Bodard, and for the way I feel seen and included as a reader.