In the Vanisher’s Palace: A fascinating world

In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsIn the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard

In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsYên, who studied to be a healer, has not lived up to expectations. Both she and her mother have failed to heal the child of one of their country’s leaders. In this land, useless people are eliminated, but Yên’s mother saves her daughter’s life by selling her off to a dragon who can shapeshift into a woman. The dragon has two rambunctious children who need to be educated, so Yen is assigned this duty in the dragon’s bizarre palace. As she lives with the dragon and her kids, she learns more about her world, herself, and the dragon who has enslaved her. Some of the things she learns will change her life forever.

Aliette de Bodard has described In the Vanisher’s Palace (2018) as “A dark retelling of Beauty & the Beast where they are both women & the Beast is a dragon, inspired by Vietnamese myths” and has suggested tags such as: “non-binary characters, dragon romance, weird medical shit, monstrous absent masters, escherscape palace, ruins of the world, non Euclidean geometry palace, all POC cast, token male character, linguistic geekery, entirely too much food, flirting with fruit, all women are badass, tea and kisses, all Vietnamese cast, tinkering with deadly stuff, terrible secrets, palace where every door hides death, combo plagues.”
In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews

Yes, there is all that.

The best part of In the Vanisher’s Palace is de Bodard’s fascinating world. I want to know more about the Vanishers and how they destroyed Yên’s society. I’d gladly read other stories set in this world. I also loved the “non Euclidean” and “escherscape” palace which at first makes Yên nauseated.

I didn’t care much for the plot, however. I thought it was dull until the last hour or so of the 7-hour long audiobook version. At that point it becomes quite exciting, but it was too little too late for me.

The romance is an essential part of the plot, but I never felt it. It was love at first sight with no tension or build up. The two lovers hardly know each other, speak very little to each other, and I think that in general I’m not a fan of the Beauty and the Beast type of story where one of the lovers is a captive of the other (though de Bodard actually handles this very well, eventually giving Yên quite a lot of agency).

So, I didn’t love this story, but it’s beautifully written and I did love the world of the Vanishers. I hope there will be more stories set here.

Tantor Audio’s edition is narrated by Nancy Wu and it’s quite nice.

Published in 2018 (audio in 2019). 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….

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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3 comments

  1. “Fascinating” sounds like the perfect word for the world-building, especially all the escherscape/non-Euclidian elements!

  2. I think de Bodard’s work stands out for her prose and her world-building.

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