Susan reviews In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

In the Vanishers' Palace by Aliette de Bodard

In The Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard is a post-apocalyptic post-colonisation fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Yên is a rural scholar, who offers herself up to a dragon in her mother’s place to repay her village’s debts; Vu Côn is the dragon in question, trying to fix the world that the Vanisher’s destroyed and then abandoned. Together they live in the dangerous Escher-style nightmare that is the Vanishers’ palace, trying to raise Vu Côn’s teenage children and change the nightmare that the Vanishers left this world in.

The world-building is really cool; In the Vanishers’ Palace is set on a world that was modified beyond the inhabitants’ understanding by the Vanishers, who abandoned it when they grew bored – and people are actively trying to fix it. The scale of the problems are huge, and compounded by people like the leaders of Yên’s village, who are power-hungry monsters, but people are still trying, and that is something I need right now. And for all that the story is fantasy, it has science fiction elements woven in really well – yes, Vu Côn’s palace has impossible geometry, nonsensical architecture, and death lurking in every corner, but it also has a library that can just generate books, and a distinctly scifi room for Vu Côn’s patients. Plus, the magic of In The Vanishers’ Palace is language based, and the story gives Yên space to explore what is known about magic and the ways that common understanding isn’t always right made me happy!

The story itself takes the basic premise of Beauty and the Beast and focuses on it as a story of agency and independence. Vu Côn’s arc is specifically about her learning to trust people to make their own choices and have valuable knowledge and opinions of their own, and her romance with Yên is explicitly about them negotiating the consent and power dynamics of a relationship where one person starts as a prisoner/employee of the other. Vu Côn’s children are specifically trying to figure out who they are independent of their mother, and what role they can have in this world. And Yên is explicitly finding a role for herself after the danger of her village, where those not deemed “useful” and in danger from the village leaders. I enjoy the ways that motherhood, familial duty, and folklore are also woven into this story as integral threads as well, it really worked!

In conclusion: In The Vanishers’ Palace is the queer retelling of Beauty and the Beast that I didn’t know I needed, and it’s excellent. Definitely recommended.

[This review is based on an ARC from the author.]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Rachel reviews The Beast at the Door by Althea Blue

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A new lesbian novel has just been released, The Beast at the Door by Althea Blue. It is a historical romance with a few elements from Beauty and the Beast, as well as a good feminist theme.

The story begins in England in the late 1800s with Patience, a spirited noblewoman. She is the youngest of four siblings and the only daughter left unmarried. Patience has had a regimented life she cannot stand, so when her parents tell her they’ve arranged for her to marry a nobleman she finds repulsive, she runs away from home that very night. But Patience soon realizes how exhausting (and dangerous) her life can be always on the run. By chance she finds a house deep in the woods and sees a strange creature occasionally roaring out the door and window. While her first instinct is to stay away, hunger and chill finally draws Patience to sneak into the house. She meets a young woman named Ada who lives here with the beast, and after much pleading, Ada allows Patience to stay in the house. But the conditions include staying away from parts of the house and never interacting with the creature guarding the place. Ada herself is kind and intelligent, but there are clearly things she’s hiding about herself and the house. The girls become friends and later on there’s a deep love that completes them. But outsiders stumbling in are always a real threat to their secrets.

The Beast at the Door is a relatively short read (208 pages) and while I liked a lot of the story, I had the feeling that more subplots and characters could have been added in to make it fuller. Patience and Ada live in a time where women were restricted by rules and marriages, but they both defied the expectations forced on them. Both were avid readers and always came to their own opinions about the things they learned. While Ada’s father had understood about letting his daughter read, Patience’s family decided what was appropriate for her. Her brother Mason was the one that secretly lent her the books she really wanted and helped shape her into the bright, forward-thinking woman she is in the story. Ada especially is resourceful in tight places and with Patience’s assistance they’re quite a team. Althea Blue was wonderful with her portrayal of these two women and their love story is beautiful. It’s not the central plotline for Patience and Ada but clearly their love for each other strengthens them.

However, there were very few character interactions in The Beast at the Door. Most of it was between the two women at the house, and I think the story would have been more engaging had there been other regular characters with their own stories. The pacing of the book seemed to go too fast, and that further gave the impression more subplots would have helped. There were also questions raised early on about a couple characters that were never answered. I thought I would learn what was happening with them but at the end nothing had been revealed. That and the epilogue didn’t feel like strong resolutions to me. Then again, I don’t know if Althea Blue is planning to write a sequel to this book, so perhaps these questions will be addressed later.

Even though I can’t recommend it, The Beast at the Door is still a good story and will draw in readers, especially those who love books centering on history and women’s rights.