IN THE VANISHERS’ PALACE
ALIETTE DE BODARD
REPRESENTATION: FF Relationship, Vietnamese setting/ characters, two non-binary supporting characters
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: Fantasy, Retelling – 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…
Beauty and the Beast is one of my absolute favourite fairy tales. I have read so many retellings of the story. Why is it then, that I can only think of one other f/f version? Clearly, there need to be far, far more!
When I saw that Aliette de Bodard was planning a Vietnamese-inspired dark-fantasy Beauty and the Beast novella, I jumped straight on that.
The Beast is replaced with a Dragon, the crumbling castle with an other-dimensional, nauseatingly shifting palace. Several side plots are woven through including medical experimentation and the danger of power imbalance in small communities. There’s so much going on in this aside from simply the Beauty and the Beast retelling.
While I did love the tender, slow-build romance de Bodard has created between Yên and Vu Côn, there’s also beautiful commentary and explorations of family bonds and motherhood, the oppressive nature of small towns, and how people are valued when resources are scarce – all of which were really compelling to read. Vietnamese language and culture are woven throughout the story in a way that sits perfectly with the plot line, which I also loved.
In the Vanishers’ Palace is a relatively short novella — 145 pages — so I don’t want to give too much away, but you should be able to read it quite quickly so there’s absolutely no reason not to pick up a copy. I think this book will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed Beauty and the Beast retellings the past, anyone looking for a bit of diversity in their fairy tales (sapphic relationship, Vietnamese-influenced setting and characters, non-binary representation), and for fans of slightly sinister, dark fantasy. Not to mention, the cover is absolutely beautiful.