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Review: In The Vanishers’ Palace

In The Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

Unsettling, sweet, disconcerting, thoughtful and weird…a mix of sci-fi and classic fantasy, with an interesting and complex protagonist, a story that weaves and never quite goes where you expect it, and a world that’s broken and hard, leaving the characters to do what they can to soften the edges.

Vu Côn is a cool and thoughtful foil to Yên’s more impetuous nature, although it’s a pleasure to see Yên grow from the shuttered and wary soul, despite the occasional frustration that Vu Côn – and the reader – get from her growth! It’s also satisfying to see more of Vu Côn’s history throughout the story, and their reasons for their actions – and in addition, seeing the growth of the two children. The relationship between Yên and Vu Côn is thoughtful and slow, and I like seeing them tread around each other – and around the rest of the world and events.

It would have been satisfying to see more of Yên’s explorations of her writing, her magic, her passion for words and teaching; they took second place to the pace of the plot towards the end, which worked very well in story terms, but left me a little sad for that side of Yên’s personality (she got bribed with a library and then immediately left it! *cries*) But the story itself is very satisfying; the tangles and growths of all of the characters are complex and interesting, and the ending is sweet.

Definitely a book worth reading if you like sweet and thoughtful sff stories.

A Crafty Update: March 2019

I’m sewing again! I got some beautiful fabrics back in 2018 from The Spinning Weal in Clevedon, and I hadn’t yet got round to doing anything with them. Well, I finally pulled out my patterns, and I’m making two things – a skirt out of the solar system, and a space dress. I managed to lay out everything and then cut it all, so the next stage is to start sewing…

(And yes, the skirt has pockets. The dress might do if I can work out how to put them in, because POCKETS!)

Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of the solar system fabric, but it’s awesome.

I’ve got enough space fabric left that I could make another skirt, or I could potentially use it for my Dr Who cushion…which, thanks to a day spent sewing while listening to family talk, is progressing quite fast!

Cross-stitch "anyone -rtant"

Writing: Wizards & Work – Part 3

More silly fantasy character studies from my work; they are definitely taking liberties with the people, and most definitely not intended to be a comment on anyone’s character!

(The first one may be the exception… totally not looking at you, Remy.)

 

She was so sweet, so helpful and so friendly that it was clear she had to be thoroughly evil; everyone knew that she had plans for world domination, but no one could quite determine how exactly she was going to achieve it.

Everyone ensured that her every whim was obeyed anyway, just in case.

 

The thing about zombies is that they’re only brainless and shambling if the spell goes wrong.

He was so useful that his employers had not even let death stop his work. The spell was expensive – indeed, he was still paying off his debt for the reanimation – but he did not need to eat, or sleep, or stop. The occasional shamble did not prevent his friendly face being one frequently seen around the office, and the knowledge in his brain was not hindered by his lack of pulse.

It was rumoured that one of the company projects was earmarked for reanimating key members of staff if they happened to pass away inconveniently; but after a slight misunderstanding with a betting pool, the rumour was officially denied, and the project name put down to simple coincidence.

 

A man thrown out of time, irritated and frustrated with our world – longing for a time of direct politics and simpler morals, where words were not picked apart in endless streams and courage was easier to grasp. And yet he had found his faith and his love in this time, and fought for them every day; argued with those who would drag his soul down, defended his love to every comer, and came back every dawn with a stout heart and explosive temper to wage war against his fellow believers.

 

No one could exactly put their finger on when the potions machine had become sentient, but it was universally agreed by all the staff that the device had a personality of its own. Stubborn, wilful and devious, it seemed to take perverse pleasure in denying the vital fluid to those most in need, and deliberately thwarted every attempt to fix any problem. Even threats of violence rarely placated it long enough to get more than a dribble of liquid.

For those few in the company that could order its replacement, however, it worked perfectly.

 

He has not been hired as a spell-smith; merely an administrator, he says when asked. He has always refused to discuss his provenance, age, or any other such mundane matters; his conversation centres around his employment and the wonders of modern cinema. However, hints such as 636 BC being “a little while ago” and a brief reference to having known several famous historical figures personally suggests age; the accidental wreaths of blue smoke and angry mutterings of dead languages when something goes wrong do little to dispel the impression of some deep, arcane skill.

The occasional mumbling of “when in doubt, use demons,” also do little to counter this impression.

 

She looks up as you approach, tinted goggles across her eyes and delicate gloves sheathing her skin. A parchment lies in front of her, the words twisting in your vision as you catch a glimpse of it and your mind filling with a dragon, raining fire and vengeance down upon a walled city.

You ask for a recommendation; a gentle story, one to ease your mind into sleep and your body into welcome rest. She nods, lays a glove-covered hand on the scroll in front of her to obscure the writhing text and then leans back to pick out one of the copied scrolls from the shelves behind her.

“What would happen if you gave me the original?” you ask curiously as you take the story.

The book witch pushes the goggles up onto her hair and gives you the faintest of smiles. “You’d sleep easily, but you’d likely not wake up again.”

 

[This may be ending up as a story…sort of plotting odd bits off and on!]