What would fantasy be like without some nice
In this post, I’m going to talk about some of my favorite palaces in the genre, and rate the beauty vs. corruption contrast.
The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett
This post was inspired by The Winter Duke, which I recently finished listening. I have complicated feelings about it – full review here! – but what I don’t feel ambiguously about is the setting. This book was advertised as “lesbian political fantasy on ice” and it’s exactly that, down to being set in a castle made of ice and overrun by winter roses (Kylma Above), floating above an icy lake with a mysterious deepwater magical city below (Kylma Below). If you’re thinking well, that sounds incredibly impractical, it is! People have to be careful not to freeze, and a lot of things are kept together by magical pacts, which is really fun when most don’t understand how those magical pacts actually work.
Beauty: a solid 7/10; really pretty, but I appreciate practicality and this has none
Corruption: 8/10. Far from the most extreme on this list, but the way the succession line is established is pretty messed up, and there sure is a lot of betraying!
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Over the city called Sky is the royal palace, also called Sky (these people don’t have much imagination when it comes to names), standing on a column not visible for a distance. Defies physics and common sense purely for the aesthetic, but at least the characters don’t risk freezing their ass off if they get distracted, and I appreciate the pragmatism of having an execution method as effective as the flight on the way down. It’s also an easy way to trap your nephews in line for the throne so that they can’t easily escape the intrigue or the vengeful gods!
(By the way, I’m so glad this is getting some hype lately, since it’s my favorite thing I’ve read by N.K. Jemisin, and it’s really underappreciated.)
Beauty: absolutely gorgeous. 10/10
Corruption: it’s a colonialist, god-enslaving murder nightmare! 9/10.
In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
You won’t risk getting murdered by the inhabitants of the palace this time – the shapeshifting dragon inhabiting it is actually a peaceful person, if really intimidating – but don’t worry! The palace will do its best to murder you itself.
It’s the palace of the Vanishers, the invaders who left behind a broken, twisted world, and it’s pretty much the building equivalent of an Escher painting, if Escher’s paintings were evil. A door (which you might find on the walls, ceilings, or pavement) might lead you to a beautiful garden as well to a terrible death.
Beauty: I have a taste for the broken, weird and nonsensical, so this gets a solid 8/10
Corruption: it starts from horribly corrupted premises, but all in all, the result isn’t that bad! 6/10, not that cruel.
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
For another place with very unusual anatomy, we’ll have to visit the palace of Akaran, the mysterious reign Maya is led to after escaping her own world. It’s beautiful and full of secrets, and if atmosphere is an important component of fantasy for you, you definitely won’t be disappointed by Roshani Chokshi’s writing. (Akaran isn’t even the prettiest place in the book! That would be the Night Bazaar.)
I will always have a weakness for the kind of place where every rooms hides its own mystery and danger, so of course I fell in love with this from the beginning.
Beauty: the prettiest underworld one will ever have the chance to witness. 9/10
Corruption: not corrupted at all actually! Who knew a nice place could exist in this post. Of course, don’t get me wrong – there are dead people. 2/10
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
The Little Palace lies in the wood like something born of a fairytale, in the perfect location for the characters to take walks by the lake and ignore the garish Grand Palace. It’s just as pretty inside, finely and tastefully decorated, with a wonderful library and mysterious passages.
Something very wrong might be going on under the façade, but now, that’s just part of the fun!
Beauty: 8/10, great atmosphere, could use serious improvements on the food
Corruption: once one understands what’s actually going on, it’s… pretty high, I’d say an 8/10.
Tensorate by JY Yang
I fell in love with the Great High Palace of the Protectorate from the first pages of The Black Tides of Heaven, in which a minor character has to go up a never-ending staircase to reach a marvel of architecture and slackcraft (something between science and magic, favorite trope alert), which includes a floating goldfish pond enveloping part of the palace. I fell even more in love with it when I realized just how rotten the people living in it were.
Beauty: 8/10. Not many descriptions are given, but what I saw was absolutely unforgettable
Corruption: 9/10 just because of how much implied abuse goes on between the scenes; the royals are one worse than the other.
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
The whole of Daevabad would get a pretty high rating on both the beauty and the corruption scale, but today we’re going to talk about the most important part of it, the palace of the Nahid. I’m currently re-listening to this book (let’s thank scribd for being free the whole month without needing any credit card info, so that I can listen to a 19-hour-long, 25€-worth audiobook for free) and I had forgotten just how creepy it was. An ancient white ziggurat with impossibly beautiful, bejeweled gardens, fountains in which water turns into blood out of spite – the palace doesn’t approve its current inhabitants – and creepy murals that reappear out of nowhere on walls that didn’t exist before. Sadly, I’m listening to this and so probably missing half of the details, but it’s definitely haunted and glorious.
Beauty: 9/10. S.A. Chakraborty certainly doesn’t spare us the descriptions! It would have been an 8 for the details on the winged-lion throne alone.
Corruption: 9/10. Oh wow there’s so much horrible backstory I didn’t even remember from the first time around. This is going to be fun
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
The Hidden Palace is the lair of the Demon King, the place where eight Paper Caste (human) girls are forced to become concubines every year. No book understands how much evil stands out on a beautiful background – and how much beauty shines if surrounded by evil – the way Girls of Paper and Fire does. In this place, you’ll find descriptions of beautiful dresses and food that will make you hungry and some of the best atmosphere you’ll ever see, paired with some of the most horrifying, deliberate violence I’ve ever found in a YA fantasy.
Beauty: 8/10, it’s breathtaking but you have an effort to ignore what’s actually going on in it to notice that;
Corruption: 10/10. No doubt about that, and it’s really not subtle about it either.
What are your favorite fantasy palaces?