In The Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
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...
TITLE: In the Vanishers' Palace
AUTHOR: Aliette de Bodard
PUBLISHER: Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc.
LENGTH: 208 pages
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s).
In The Vanishers’ Palace is about grief, agency, and joy; about learning how to make decisions for oneself and give others space to do the same.
I like the way we learn about the eponymous "Vanishers" through context and what they left behind, with almost no discussion of what they were like because they're not the point: the focus is on the people and world they left behind. I tend to enjoy books which immerse me in a setting and expect me to keep up, and this one is full of that. It doesn't tell us really what the Vanishers were, and I didn't need it to. It's a quieter story, managing to feel deep and slow-paced while being a short book that didn't take very long to read. There are themes of community, isolation, and what fear leads people to do when they have incomplete information or ignore what they should know. It stays pretty focused on the relationship between the MCs, but the secondary characters are very important to the story in a way that made it feel like a small snippet of a full world.
I particularly love the way language is used here, making it clear that the characters are not speaking English (the language in which I read the story) by briefly describing the way the way gendered language is used by the characters in how they refer to themselves and each other, indicating that a character spoke only one word when what appears on the page is a phrase with two words, etc. This is the kind of thing that could have broken the immersion, but I liked having reminders that when they spoke to each other in this post-apocalyptic situation that they had language and references which I wouldn't share, it made their world feel more complete while still giving me the information I needed as a reader.
Apparently this is a queer retelling of a classic tale. I'm glad I went into it without that specific knowledge because it let me like the story for what it is, rather than comparing it to something else. Now that I know what story it's retelling, the parallels are pretty clear and I think it did a good job, but it felt like a fresh story when I was reading it and I like it on its own terms.
CW for parental death (backstory), illness, death.