In the Vanishers’ Palace will transfix you from the start, weaving a deftly written adaptation of Beauty and the Beast into a magic-filled world burdened with the evil remnants of a dark past. It’s so much more than a retelling of a classic story. Bodard has made it her own with enthralling prose and an inspired version of dragons that shows much more than their scaly exteriors would betray. Prepare to be swept away.
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review. I only publish reviews of books I enjoy, and this novel meets that criterion.
IN THE VANISHERS’ PALACE
By Aliette de Bodard
JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc.
Quick Summary: A young woman is forced to give her life for that of another. Her captor, a dragon, takes her to a place that defies logic, sending her down a path that will ultimately lead to feelings she doesn’t understand and a past that should remain in the darkness.
The most recent novel from Aliette de Bodard (The House of Shattered Wings, The Tea Master and the Detective) puts a high-fantasy spin on the already magical story of Beauty and the Beast. The characters are complex, each with layered perceptions of themselves and their place in this broken world. The magic is beautiful, the palace itself is a mindblowing entity, and the originality is evident on every page. Here are a few things I loved about the book:
Bodard’s visualization of magic is astounding. The words aren’t just spoken – they come to life, swirling through the air in a glowing mass, attaching themselves to objects, getting absorbed into the skin. Imagining the various scenes is a treat. The palace itself transforms into a magical playground or horror show, depending on the room and circumstances. Floors become walls, doors disappear and secrets hide everywhere. I greatly appreciated the inclusion of the library scene as well. That Disney animated library was the reason I became obsessed with books in the first place.
There’s a deep, dark past in this version of Earth. What starts as a simple world filled with disease is revealed to be a bit of a horror show, all thanks to the overzealous forbearers who laid waste in the past. This darkness shrouds most everything, creating unexpected troubles and terrors. It also starts an interesting discussion on how far is too far when it comes to expanding our scientific knowledge. You’ll be left contemplating the horrible possibilities.
We get to see the main character grow – both in bravery and in her determination to survive. Unlike the Belle we know, our protagonist is unsure of herself, quiet in her demeanor and unconvinced she matters. As she learns more about her world and those living with her in the palace, she grows into a self-assured woman who stands up for herself and those she loves.
You most likely know the story of Beauty and the Beast. Whether it’s the original tale, the bajillion movie versions, or the Disney classic, you know what happens. Likewise, you know the creepy undertones present in the love story. Bodard tackles this element with a conversation on consent, used as a learning moment between the dragon and her child. It was a much-needed addition.
I was expecting Smaug which I realize in hindsight was ridiculous. The reality is a beautiful portrayal of a dragon, complex in her shifting human and animal characteristics. She’s never fully human or dragon. The descriptions defy what you assume about a dragons appearance, leaving you constantly guessing. It can be difficult to put a reader in the same mindset as the people with the narrative, and this effect of visual confusion does just that.