THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS by Aliette de Bodard

August 20, 2017 - 7:17 am No Comments

THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS by Aliette de Bodard, Gollancz, £14.99 paperback, 351 pages. ISBN: 978-1-475-21260-2

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

So much literature, whether SF, fantasy or general fiction is set in an English-speaking world, or has its main characters coming from that background. A handful of writers are willing to step outside the box. Ian McDonald is one, having set novels on practically every continent with rarely a westerner in sight. Alastair Reynolds Blue Remembered Earth trilogy has the majority of characters originating from sub-Saharan Africa. From American authors, it is only the likes of Octavia Butler whose characters are non-white. Thus it is refreshing to have a novel set wholly in another country and whose characters do not speak English.

The House of Binding Thorns and the earlier novel The House of Shattered Wings, are set in a Paris devastated by a magical war. In this world, the Fallen were once angels and have immense power. In The House of Shattered Wings the conflict between the rival houses of Silverspires, headed by Lucifer Morningstar, and Hawthorn, headed by Asmodeus, ended with carnage and the diminution of Silverspires. The House of Binding Thorns centres on Hawthorn.

Asmodeus became the head of the house by staging a bloody coup twenty years previously. Now he reclaims Madelaine from Silverspires, where she took refuge at the height of the coup. As his dependent, she has his protection as long as she is loyal and useful. He sends her as part of a delegation to the Annamite, or dragon kingdom which lurks under the Seine. She has visited before but this time notices the decay and shabbiness. Too many of the inhabitants have become addicted to angel essence, a drug made from the bodies of the Fallen and which slowly destroys the user. Madelaine knows as she is an addict herself. Ngoc Bich, ruler of the underwater kingdom, is herself under siege from rebels and is willing to form an alliance with Hawthorn. To seal the pact, a marriage is to take place between Asmodeus and Thuan, prince of the dragons and former spy in Hawthorn, a factor which immediately produces tensions.

Threads from the past weave consequences that emerge in the complex situation. Ngoc Bich’s rebels are being aided by House Astragale. Ciseis, who should have been heir to Hawthorn except for the coup, has taken refuge there and gradually set plans in action to take back the house from Asmodeus.

Another consequence of the magical war amongst the Fallen was the need for workers. Many of these were conscripted in Vietnam, the original home of the dragons under the Seine. Many of them still live in Paris, many are Houseless (not under the protection of any of the Houses of the Fallen). They are poor, living amongst the ruins of the city. Among them is Berith, Fall-sister to Asmodeus. She lives alone – a House of one – with her lover Françoise (not her birth name as the Viet names are difficult to pronounce and they tend to adopt French ones). Françoise, like many of her compatriots, is able to use the magical khi currents that permeate the elements. She is also pregnant.

Phillipe is another Annamite who was once attached to Silverspires and who feels responsible for the death of the Fallen, Isobelle. He knows that the Fallen can be resurrected and has vowed to bring her back. Much of his part in this novel is directed towards this.

The plot is complex, weaving together a number of strands, most of which have their origin in politics and the inter-House conflicts. In the first novel, much of the focus was on Morningstar and the Fallen of House Silverspires. Here attention

gives a wider picture of this Paris, encompassing a different set of passions. It is beautifully constructed and written. The characters are multi-faceted but it is worth keeping in mind that the Fallen are dangerous and ruthless, but like the angel essence that can be made from their bodies, they are addictive. A worthy sequel to the award winning The House of Shattered Wings.

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