Aliette de Bodard, "The House of Binding Thorns" (Ace, 2017)


The House of Binding Thorns (Ace, 2017), Aliette de Bodard's novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, is the follow up to The House of Shattered Wings, which won the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award. The books are set in an alternate Paris, where dragons and other sea-creatures drawn from Vietnamese mythology control the river Seine, and the Fallen, ruthless angels expelled from heaven, control everything else. The reader is enveloped in gossamer threads of dread, as she reads about the struggles of various characters to escape domination and cruelty. Both the dragon kingdom and the Houses of the Fallen offer nuanced gradients of aggression; there is no refuge for the powerless. A pregnant Vietnamese woman, an immortal from Asia who lost most of his power, and a French woman who is addicted to the magic found in angel bones, all try to find their way among the shifting alliances, subterfuges, and occasional rewards of a decaying and rotting city. This is low fantasy: magic mixed with political machinations, the ethereal mixed with the pain of labor. With the plot occasionally taking a backseat to setting, there is nothing for it but to give yourself over to the heavy, evocative atmosphere, and let it subjugate you with its hypnotic cloud of magic. Ms. de Bodard's observant eye captures the subtleties of various cultures, genders, and fantastical creatures in a believable and visceral way.

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