Novella Review: In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard (For Review)

Source: Publisher – I received this in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 
Jabberwocky Literary Agency
 eBook, 145 Pages
 Fantasy Novella
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository

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.

I have seen some really positive things about Bodard’s writing and when I saw this novella up for review I knew I had to finally give her work a chance. Unfortunately, this one didn’t quite work for me the way I had hoped it would.

The world of Vanishers’ Palace is quite intriguing and steeped in Vietnamese lore, which is something that I am largely unfamiliar with. We have two different planes of existence, our world and the world of spirits where the dragons live. There is also a very interesting magic system that relies on spoken words. I liked what Bodard presented us with, but I wish there had been more. The Vanishers are continually painted as these horrid beings full of selfish desire and as creatures who do something simply because they can, but beyond that, we are left in the dark as to what they truly are. They partially sound like aliens given the strangeness of their palace and focus on science. In addition to this, we don’t get to learn a lot about life in the world other than there is the rampet illness.

The relationship between Vu Côn and Yên was also a majority selling point for me, I don’t read nearly enough books with f/f relationships. I’ve seen it mentioned that this is supposed to a be a play on Beauty and the Beast, and while I do see that similarity I would say that it excels in some areas and fails in others. There is a focus on consent and power dynamic in this, which I appreciated, but the actual relationship lacks a lot of passion or tension. The intimate moments were also kind of odd in the sense that it left far more questions than it answered.

I think my major qualms for Vanishers Palace lies in the style in which it is written. Parts of the story come off as flowery while others are stark and very blatant, and it seemed to be at odds with itself. In addition, there were several sections that were very hard to follow because of how vague/abundant the details were in areas.

While this one felt a bit distant to me I do think that it offered something in regards to the imagination that I haven’t seen in other novels, and I’m still quite curious to see what Bodard’s other work are like.

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