In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard
Yên, who studied to be a healer, has not lived up to expectations. Both she and her mother have failed to heal the child of one of their country’s leaders. In this land, useless people are eliminated, but Yên’s mother saves her daughter’s life by selling her off to a dragon who can shapeshift into a woman. The dragon has two rambunctious children who need to be educated, so Yen is assigned this duty in the dragon’s bizarre palace. As she lives with the dragon and her kids, she learns more about her world, herself, and the dragon who has enslaved her. Some of the things she learns will change her life forever.
Aliette de Bodard has described In the Vanisher’s Palace (2018) as “A dark retelling of Beauty & the Beast where they are both women & the Beast is a dragon, inspired by Vietnamese myths” and has suggested tags such as: “non-binary characters, dragon romance, weird medical shit, monstrous absent masters, escherscape palace, ruins of the world, non Euclidean geometry palace, all POC cast, token male character, linguistic geekery, entirely too much food, flirting with fruit, all women are badass, tea and kisses, all Vietnamese cast, tinkering with deadly stuff, terrible secrets, palace where every door hides death, combo plagues.”
Yes, there is all that.
The best part of In the Vanisher’s Palace is de Bodard’s fascinating world. I want to know more about the Vanishers and how they destroyed Yên’s society. I’d gladly read other stories set in this world. I also loved the “non Euclidean” and “escherscape” palace which at first makes Yên nauseated.
I didn’t care much for the plot, however. I thought it was dull until the last hour or so of the 7-hour long audiobook version. At that point it becomes quite exciting, but it was too little too late for me.
The romance is an essential part of the plot, but I never felt it. It was love at first sight with no tension or build up. The two lovers hardly know each other, speak very little to each other, and I think that in general I’m not a fan of the Beauty and the Beast type of story where one of the lovers is a captive of the other (though de Bodard actually handles this very well, eventually giving Yên quite a lot of agency).
So, I didn’t love this story, but it’s beautifully written and I did love the world of the Vanishers. I hope there will be more stories set here.
Tantor Audio’s edition is narrated by Nancy Wu and it’s quite nice.