Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Vanishers_Cover5In the Vanishers’ Palace is an adult fantasy f/f retelling of Beauty and the Beast with an all-Vietnamese cast. In this book, the “beast” is a shapeshifting dragon, and since the only thing that is better than both f/f romances and monster romances is an f/f monster romance, I knew I had to read it.

Monster romances have always been one of my favorite kinds of romance. I’m sure there are others out there, but In the Vanishers’ Palace is the first f/f one I’ve ever read, and I’m glad I found it – I’ve been looking for a f/f couple with this dynamic for a while, after loving so many m/f ones. Vu Côn, the shapeshifting dragon who tries to remain emotionally distant and Is Totally Not Into Yên but uses fruit to flirt was exactly the kind of character I wanted to read about.

The thing about Beauty and the Beast retellings is that the relationship usually starts on an unequal footing, and this can lead to unaddressed unhealthy aspects in the relationship (too many of them read more like Stockholm syndrome than romance). This never happened in this book – Yên’s agency and her choices are really important here, and this is a story about two characters in an unhealthy place working together to make it less so. It doesn’t work out immediately, it isn’t easy, and I really liked reading about their journey.
I loved Yên and Vu Côn both as characters and as a couple.

In the Vanishers’ Palace is a story about healing. Not only because the inciting incident itself happened because of an illness and some of the major characters are healers, but because this is a story set in a postcolonial world. The “Vanishers”, mysterious and powerful creatures, have left, but they left behind a broken world. Not only their experiments caused people to catch new, deadly illnesses, but the survivors now value only what’s “useful” – and this includes people. In the Vanishers’ Palace is a story about leaving behind that mindset.

My favorite aspect of the worldbuilding was the Vanishers’ palace itself. From magical libraries to stairways that seem not to lead anywhere, from waterfalls that defy gravity to dangerous gardens and windows opening on the floor, it was a place of beauty and horror and one of the best settings I’ve read in a while. I have a weakness for magical buildings and this was everything I wanted and more. This dreamlike but deadly atmosphere reminded me of Roshani Chokshi’s books – I feel like this book could appeal to those who liked The Star-Touched Queen and want to read something shorter and less slow-paced.

I also really liked the side characters. Yên was a teacher when she lived in her village and she also becomes a teacher for Vu Côn’s two children, Thông and Liên, who were adorable disasters.
And, as usual, the writing was wonderful – it was atmospheric without being heavy, the dialogue felt natural, and I loved the descriptions.

My rating: ★★★★★

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