Sunday Snippet: In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Posted December 2, 2018 by Jen in Sunday Snippet Tags:

About the Book

In the Vanishers’ Palace
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Publisher: JABberwocky Literary, Inc.
Released: October 2018
Series: Standalone
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQ, Lesbian Romance
Purchase links: AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo



Yên stood, shivering, in the trees by the river’s side. A smell of sheening oil and rot wafted from the polluted water. Light shone beneath the surface, dancing in abstract patterns. The skeletal, hollow moon limned the gnawed, diseased branches in dim grey light. By Yên’s side were the village elders, ghostly, almost-featureless figures in the moon’s light. Elder Tho held Yên’s wrist tight enough to bruise. “She’s late,” Elder Tho said, sounding annoyed. “The dragon.”

Yên wasn’t sure if late made a difference—a few more moments of freedom, a few more moments of breathing—because who knew why the dragon had asked for a life?

“Elder sister.” Elder Giang’s voice was tinny and muffled as they spoke. “Please be quiet. At night—”

Yên could have laughed, if she’d still had laughter in her. Of course, they were outside the village boundaries at night, and Heaven only knew what waited for them under the trees.

“Perhaps we should have taken your mother,” Elder Tho said.

Yên forced out words from between frozen lips. “You promised…” But what was the value of promises, to women such as her? Elder Tho had always gotten her own way. She had always had the village bend to her will and whims, and an impoverished scholar like Yên weighed so little in her world.

To Yên’s surprise, Elder Tho shook her head. “I did.” Her voice was low and thoughtful. “We made a bargain, and I’ll hold to it. If you do.”

“You know I have no choice,” Yên said. She bit her lip. Respect, she had to remember respect, but she was tired of bowing to her own death.

Elder Tho’s mouth opened—to censure, to order every bone in Yên’s body broken—but Elder Giang spoke up first. “Elder sister, the river!”

In the water, the luminous stains had stopped drifting: they swirled around a motionless center, as if someone had planted a brush into the river’s bed and turned, again and again, a slowly increasing frenzy of stains and blobs all merging into one another, a congealing mass of light shot through with holes like a lotus root hollowed out of seeds. No, not a mass of light: they were words, the same ones that had trailed the dragon as she’d come into the village. Duty. Dreams. Worship.

The light dimmed, throwing into sharp relief the boundaries between letters. The words drifted slightly apart as if something, holding its breath and drawing them all in, had suddenly released it.

Something pushed from beneath the water—emerging, lithe and sinuous, a huge, serpentine body, translucent stubs of antlers with the same glow as the moon’s—a mane, scattering droplets of river water as the dragon shook herself, her roar the thunder of a storm that stripped leaves and bark from the trees. Teeth—sharp, pointed—gleamed in her mouth, and it took no effort at all to imagine that huge maw snapping over flesh and bone, tearing chunks of meat away from arms and legs, nudging ribs open to gobble up heart and liver and lungs.

Mother had been right: she was beautiful.

Yên should have been on her knees like the elders, face pressed to the ground, hiding from this luminous, terrible creature to whom she now belonged, from her death and all the stretched hours that would come before it. But she couldn’t look away.

The dragon stretched, body arching upward, a line of scales pointing straight to the lambent sky; and then bent forward again, head making straight for the shore, gaining speed, as if she meant to scoop Yên up in her jaws. Yên, sluggish and entranced, watched her come: light coalescing on pearlescent scales, droplets of water shaken to the ground like a shower of jade and silver, eyes as large as her hands, the dark pupils like a hole into which she was endlessly falling—

The light shifted, hardened. The dragon shimmered, and shrank. For a bare moment, she was two things in the same place. And then the serpentine body faded, and only the shape of a human remained.

It was the same person Yên had already seen: unchanged, though her face was tight with an expression Yên couldn’t name. Eagerness, blood-thirst?


The dragon walked to where Yên was standing, slowly, leisurely. Around Yên, the air tightened, turning cold and wet. Tendrils of mist rose from the ground, smelling musty, clamping themselves around Yên’s limbs and face until she could no longer move.

“Well, well,” the dragon said. She put a hand under Yên’s chin. Her touch was wet and slimy, but the mist tendrils held Yên, as she’d have jerked away. “What do we have here?” The dragon lifted Yên’s face, held it for a while. “My payment for a healing?”

Book Blurb:

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…

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Twitter: aliettedb