The House of Binding Thorns, Aliette de Bodard
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 4th April 2017
I know this review is terribly late; I salved my conscience by buying a copy as well. Aliette de Bodard has built a fascinating world in this post-apocalyptic Paris, and it’s so refreshing to get Vietnamese influences running through a story like this — it might be set in France and involve angels of a rather Western bent, but it also features dragons of a rather more Eastern variety.
I don’t think you can really read this without The House of Shattered Wings; you need the background for Madeleine and Philippe. I was surprised, though, at how interesting I found Asmodeus. I wasn’t too taken with him before, but this book does show another side to him. There’s also a lesbian couple, Françoise and Berith, and their story is new here, but adds more to the world.
If The House of Shattered Wings didn’t work for you, I suspect that The House of Binding Thorns won’t, either. I found it bleakly beautiful, and really enjoyed the additions to the world-building and the way the characters grew and changed, or at least revealed other aspects of themselves. It also won’t work for you if you’re not a fan of something that falls squarely into moral grey areas: you could have believed Silverspires were the good guys, in the previous book, but now the house is Asmodeus’, and for all that you kind of find yourself rooting for him, he’s still not a pleasant person.
The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard
It’s hard to pull together my feelings and thoughts on this book, for some reason. I remember not being sure about the first 100 pages — particularly with the brutal butchery at the beginning, and I’m being pretty literal about the butchery — but then I got really into it, ended up reading obliviously until my dinner was stone cold, and finished it off in one great gulp. And promptly started recommending it to people. And yet right now, it’s hard to put my finger on it: part of it is the Paris of the setting, degraded and dark and magical; the feeling of House Silverspires, the history and weight of it; the allure of the Fallen, especially Morningstar, and wanting to know what their stories are. And the Vietnamese legends that get drawn in are also fascinating, and leave me very curious about a culture I know shockingly little about.
At the same time, I see reviews complaining about the unlikeableness and distance of most of the characters, and if I stop to think about it, it’s true. Selene? Well, she’s not cruel, though she’s not entirely merciful, and occasionally you can have a moment of pity for her in the way she has to lead her House. But sympathy? Not really. Madeleine? Well. Some sympathy, perhaps, but in a very pitiful sort of way, because of her addiction. Philippe? Difficult, given his ambivalence, his willingness to betray, and the fact that he participated in the butchery of a Fallen angel at the very start of the book… Isabelle? She’s more of a blank slate, honestly; it’s hard to know what she’s going to become, what’s going on in her head. That’s almost the point of her character, given that Fallen don’t retain full memories of why they fell.
And yet. I know that I did get drawn in — partly by the prose, I think, which breathed that sense of a decaying Paris, of tarnished pride, and by the world de Bodard built. Even if I can’t put my finger on it, I have to give this four stars because, well, what else can you do when something makes you forget all about your dinner for hours?
Some other blogs I follow do this meme, every Tuesday, and it seemed like a good idea. So! This week the top ten theme picked by The Broke and the Bookish is “top ten new-to-me authors in 2013”. This is pretty hard — I’m rubbish at picking top tens — but hey, with this one I just need to use Goodreads and look among my four and five starred books for this year, and hopefully I should be able to figure something out. They will not, I warn, be in any particular order.
- Cassandra Rose Clarke. I loved The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, which reminded me of a more daring, personal The Positronic Man (Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg). All sorts of themes which I love, and there’s something so powerfully sensual about it, too — there’s a physicality to it that surprised me and moved me.
- Georgette Heyer. I think I may technically have read one or two of her detective novels in 2012, but I kept away from her Regency romances, because I thought that was obviously not my thing. How wrong I was! The Talisman Ring, The Reluctant Widow and The Grand Sophy were probably my favourites. Heyer’s romances are actually way more fun (for me) than her detective novels, and often wickedly funny too.
- Karen Lord. I’ve only read part of The Best of All Possible Worlds, but I’m enjoying it, and I really loved Redemption in Indigo. Folk-story type narration and structure, awesome female characters, etc.
- Martha Wells. I’ve only read City of Bones, but I loved it. Non-traditional gender stuff, avoids the easy way out, lots of tasty, tasty world building. I think I’ve bought almost all the rest of her books as a result.
- Franny Billingsley. Oh my goodness, Chime. Just, oh my goodness. I loved the narration, the magic, the things it said about abuse and surviving and living again. I also enjoyed The Folk Keeper and Well Wished — less so, and they’re less touching/heavy subjects, but they’re a lot of fun too.
- Arthur C. Clarke. Yeah, I know, I’m a bit late on this one. But I really enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey. I didn’t realise that I’d enjoy his writing style so much — I had him sort of filed away as maybe like H.G. Wells, interesting for ideas but not quite entertaining. Wroooong.
- Lord Dunsany. Yeah, again, I know. I read Time and the Gods and am determined to spend more time reading his stuff: it’s just the sort of mythic, rich stuff I can really dig into.
- C.J. Sansom. I’ve been meaning to read his stuff for quite a while, but this year I finally got round to it. I enjoy his writing style, and while there are bones I have to pick with the Shardlake books, I do enjoy his way of portraying that time period and his choice of protagonist.
- Chris F. Holm. About time another Angry Robot author showed up, doncha think? I love Dead Harvest, etc: it’s funny, it’s a good pastiche of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett et al., and the covers are amazing. I just had so much fun reading these books.
- David Weber. He and Aliette de Bodard fought a fierce battle for this last spot, but he won. I loved On Basilisk Station, despite many flaws I could find in it. I mean, ten pages of exposition slap bang in the middle of an epic space chase/battle. WHAT. But still. I love Honor and I’m looking forward to reading more of the series.
I’m being good and sticking to the letter of the law: only a top ten. The top ten books I read in 2013 is coming up not next week but the week after: goodness knows how I’ll manage with that. But for now, off I go to bury my nose in the pages of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Alan Bradley).