Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard
Last Friday night, I was feeling indecisive about what to read, so I emailed Jana and listed the options I was considering: YA Historical Fantasy? Creepy Medical SF? I admitted I was leaning toward Snarky Murder Novella. “It’s Friday,” she said, encouraging me to treat myself with Snarky Murder Novella, and I’m very glad I did.
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders is part of Aliette de Bodard’s DOMINION OF THE FALLEN series, coming between book three, The House of Sundering Flames, and a fourth book yet to be released. However, it is written to stand on its own; you don’t have to have read any of the previous books. I hadn’t, but I definitely will after this.
Thuan is a dragon (he can shift between dragon and human form). He is returning to his home, the underwater citadel ruled by his aunt, for the Tet holiday. With him is his husband, Asmodeus, a fallen angel. It’s not long before trouble finds them, in the form of a dead body in the palace. Thuan’s cousin, who heads the secret police, enlists him to help investigate. He has certain advantages as a spy; any strange behavior or lapses in protocol will be chalked up to his long absence.
The setting is really cool. It’s a Vietnamese-based underwater palace complex (there’s a bubble around it so land-dwellers can breathe) with coral and algae in the gardens. The court is made up of a variety of aquatic shapeshifters — dragons, orcas, crabs, fish. It’s a progressive society in some ways; gender makes no difference to what positions you can hold or who you can marry. In other ways, it’s stratified and restrictive, not to mention the palace intrigue that Thuan describes as “a nest of hornets.”
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders isn’t really a traditional mystery. Thuan learns pretty quickly who, or at least what faction, committed the murder. The question is less whodunit and more why, in two senses of the word. Why is this group angry? (They have some legitimate grievances.) And why are they doing the specific things they’re doing — what are they trying to accomplish?
At first, Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation because he’d love a chance to make some trouble and stab some folks. Later, though, he decides the danger to Thuan is too great, and he urges a return home to House Hawthorn. Thuan, though, feels obligated to stay and figure it out, and is afraid that failure could mean the deaths of his whole family. This becomes a source of tension between the two.
And now that I’ve made this all sound very serious — and a lot of it is! — it is definitely a Snarky Murder Novella. De Bodard lightens the mood with dry humor. The bond between Thuan and Asmodeus is also a bright spot, as is their commitment to protecting everyone they’ve taken under their wings.
Unsurprisingly, Jana was right, and this was just the thing for a Friday night. You’ll probably like it too, if you enjoy mysteries, court intrigue, sarcasm, and diversity (both in the human sense and in terms of the variety of magical beings portrayed). It has sold me on the DOMINION OF THE FALLEN series, and I plan to read the first book, The House of Shattered Wings, very soon.