Before I started the Hessan’s County blog, this all started out as me doing informal book reviews on the Rule of Lore discord’s Media Club. I wanted to bring back some of those reviews and polish them up to my current standard. Here is the first of those in In the Vanishers’ Palace!

In the Vanishers’ Palace, A Synopsis

By Aliette de Bodard, In the Vanishers’ Palace is a surreal post-apocalyptic science fantasy heavily based around Việt philosophy and mythology. There is also inspiration from some European fairy tales like the Beauty and the Beast and connections to Victorian governess fiction.

The cover for Alliette de Bodard's In the Vanishers' Palace. It features a woman wearing Vietnamese-inspired clothing in a peach and red color palette seeming falling feet-first through mid air. Coiling around her is a large green and blue Asian dragon, though only part of it's head around the eye and several lengths of the massive dragon are visible.
Cover art by Kelsey Liggett, cover design by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein and Melanie Ujimori.

To provide the most basic of summaries, an educated young woman, Yên, is indentured to the powerful dragon Vu Côn. Yên’s village is in debt and Vu Côn was in need of a teacher for her two children who reside in the former home of the Vanishers. These Vanishers were masters of genetic manipulation and advanced technologies that left the world devastated and twisted. They have since left or been destroyed. The palace-lab-prison they have left behind holds many dark secrets and dangers, but may also hold the key to improving life for humanity on the devastated planet.

Mythical Science Fiction

A lot of the science fiction elements contained within In the Vanishers’ Palace include advanced, poorly understood technologies and traditional medicine blended with genetic manipulation. This mixture of earthly and alien is emphasized by the contrast of seemingly local spirits with aliens and elements of body horror due to the Vanishers. The elements of the story involving the children also touch on debates of nature vs nurture. Major elements from this story also echo the Beauty and the Beast beyond the romance, such as the dangers of arrogance when in positions of power and debates around valuing things based on utility.

Importance of Culture

Some basic knowledge of Vietnamese language and culture will be really helpful when reading this novella. In the Vanishers’ Palace explores the fundamental Confucian relationships. some tensions between characters are illustrated by the changing use of pronouns between our main characters. Vietnamese pronouns modify based on age differences and the intimacy of the relationship between the two speakers. The author tries to explain it in the moment, but already having basic knowledge will go far in improving the story’s immersion.

My Impressions of In The Vanishers’ Palace

As I alluded to earlier, there is a same-sex romance that develops in the story. While there are at time strange power dynamics going on in it, the relationship is consensual and a critical part of the plot. There are also elements of found family & adoption addressed and several non-binary presenting characters.

Personally I would give this story a 4.5 out of 5. If I had any complaints, it is that the novel is only 145 pages long. While the story did not feel truncated, I also felt that Bodard could have invested some more pages into exploring the world and the relationships that are created throughout the course of the story.

I would also like to give a word of warning to anyone considering this book. When I say In the Vanishers’ Palace is surreal, I mean Surreal. Bodard’s descriptions of many situations in the book can be disorientating for some, especially if you experience bleed when reading fiction. There were one or two moments where I had to take a break due to this disorientation, but I can experience bleed pretty strongly while reading .

If you like Aliette de Bodard, you can also try out her novella, Fireheart Tiger and the Universe of Xuya novels.

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