Note: I received a free ARC of this novella in return for a fair and honest review.
Publisher: JABerwocky Literary Agency
Page Count: 145
Release Date: October 16th, 2018
Aliette de Bodard is an author whose works, I’m sorry to say, have long languished in my TBR stack. But after reading her upcoming novella IN THE VANISHER’S PALACE, it’s become clear that I need to make a more concerted effort to put her books on the top of the pile. Ms. de Bodard has a way with words that captures your heart, even within the confines of a short work of prose.
IN THE VANISHERS’ PALACE is a fusion of Beauty and the Beast with Vietnamese folklore and a dash of speculative sci-fi for good measure. We meet Yên, daughter of a village healer with no particular aptitude for anything. She’s frequently ridiculed by the village elders and has no future. All of that changes when her mother summons a dragon to heal the daughter of the head of the village. Yên’s mother plans to offer herself in servitude to pay the dragon, but at the last moment, Yên takes her mother’s place. She is whisked away by the dragon, Lady Vu Côn, to a mysterious palace that defies the rules of reality.
The novella’s greatest strength is its evocative, considered use of words, particularly in the first half of the story. Every choice of phrase paints a picture, from the ever-shifting forms of the dragon to the equally shifting tensions between Vu Côn and Yên. I particularly loved the author’s attention to the details of linguistics, finding ways to convey a sense of the exact weight of words that exist outside the English language. It is an impressive feat that aids in the expression of how important certain ideals are to the characters and their culture, as well as highlighting the changing dynamics between characters.
As mentioned above, this is a fantasy tale with a dash of science-fiction. The particulars of the world are far less important than the characters who inhabited them, yet I still bumped slightly on a few of the futuristic elements. My interest was in Vu Côn and Yên, a testament to the arresting way these two leads are written. At the same time, I found myself less engaged when the narrative turned its focus to the dilemma facing the world they lived in. This dilemma is the MacGuffin that complicates the women’s relationship, but made the tale less dreamy and more concrete during the last third of the story. While this may have been the author’s intent, it nevertheless made this story fall just short of perfection for me.
IN THE VANISHERS’ PALACE is an excellent retelling of a classic fairytale, beautifully reimagined. It walks the line of creating a completely original narrative, while still hitting the familiar beats we know and love. If you are looking for an afternoon read set in a strange and unconventional world, I highly recommend this novella.