The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
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Blimey, its a long time since you put anything up here, you lazy git...

I've been having a bit of a reading slump recently. Two very active holidays in quick succession, a new job, frustration with my own writing. And maybe not fully enjoying what I've been reading. But on Thursday night though, up late after watching the Pittsburgh Penguins rob the Islanders in overtime, I decided I'd stay up a little later to finish The House of Binding Thorns.

Because I had to.

Had to?

I needed to know how it finished. I needed to know how the big showdown went, I needed to know who lived, and I needed to know what final secrets Aliette de Bodard had to reveal. And I did not regret my three hours of sleep that night one iota.

Okay, this sounds good. How about you start from the beginning and tell all the nice people what this book's about?

The House of Binding Thorns is book 2 in De Bodard's Dominion of the Fallen series, a series of brooding and beautiful fantasies set in a post-Great War Paris full of fallen angels and broken people. The first book in the series isn't all that necessary, its a loosely interlinked series, but read it anyway.

That's what the book is about - the notes that the book hits are drama and mystery. For the former, De Bodard reminds me strongly of Guy Gavriel Kay with the almost poetic sense of emotion and the focus on both larger than life characters and characters with ordinary jobs and lives swept into their orbit. For the latter, the gradual sense of something wrong and conspiracy are probably most like Max Gladstone's The Craft than anything else I've read in the genre.

I should point out that The House of Binding Thorns also contains plenty of Vietnamese Rong, moving romantic relationships and magic with echoes of real life occultism. I give all of that two thumbs up.

Well you are a sucker for fantasy mysteries, so no wonder you like it. What else got you?

The characters are the greatest part of this book. Madeline became one of my favourite heroines in the genre this book; suspicious, struggling with herself, too honest for her own good, driven by her fears, and yet ultimately triumphant because of all that (and her rather large brain). As I'm writing this, I took a casual look at the blurb for the trilogy finale and was shocked to see her name go unmentioned - shocked enough that I googled just to make sure Madeleine is in there because it'd be a travesty if she wasn't.

That ability to make characters great and interesting by their flaws is displayed time and time again. It gives them ... well, everything. They feel real. They feel entertaining. They feel both larger than life and very human. No character ever gets all of the page space I wish they could have, which is more a good thing than a bad, because they get plenty and I'm just being greedy. The one real criticism I have to make is I wish we'd heard more about what made them what they are - we got that for Asmodeus and it turned what might have been a two-dimensional stylish villain into a terrifying, tragic force of nature that straddles the line between antihero and villain while bogarting all the best lines.

I would also add that I'm really quite jealous of De Bodard's prose. It is simultaneously elegant and effortless; a perfect marriage of form and function. That also gets me big time.

So you loved it unconditionally, huh?

It started slow. Got to be up front about that. There's a lot of different strands at the start that aren't obviously connected and maybe lack a little something in terms of grip. I'd enjoy each scene for what it was without feeling any sort of building momentum that I needed to know about.

But once that momentum came, then it met every conceivable condition of being loved. Slow start aside, I thought the book was very well paced; I figured out what was going on just as I was beginning to get irritated about the lack of answers, and I figured it out just a little before the characters. To me, that's the author equivalent of a footballer landing a fifty yard pass on a fifty pence piece.

Jeez, calm down, its just a book.

There's no such thing as just a book.

Okay, true. But it won't be for everyone, right?

Nothing ever is. Anyone looking for gore-drenched action is in the wrong place; ditto sneaky heist action, deeply intricate and logical magic systems, and ye olde fashioned fantasy setting.

Incidentally, I'd love to see Aliette De Bodard write some heist stories now. I recall reading that heist stories are traditionally emotionally superficial; I'd love to see what she could do with that challenge.

Mostly though, I just'd like to see more people love this book, because I think most fantasy readers would.
 
I love when these books cross your path and are so enjoyable (and more than the sum of their parts) that you’re left with a feeling like you’ve had a profound experience.

Great review and the Great War backdrop sounds wonderful. Your reviews often make me wish I could read faster.

pH
 

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