(2019) Aliette de Bodard, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, 549pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22340-0
The House of Sundering Flames by Aliette de Bodard is the third novel in the three-part 'Dominion of the Fallen' series following The House of Binding Thorns. There are also a number of short stories that complement these. Yet you can read this one as a standalone novel, though if you usually read fantasy based on Eurocentric mythology, reading from the start might make it easier to immerse yourself in the author's world.
The story is set in Paris, but in a decayed post magical-apocalypse gothic city, dominated by fallen angels who surround themselves with people, allies and dependants, to form Houses who vie with each other for power. Dragons, magicians and magic swirl in the darkness, but not dragons that we are familiar with, but shape-shifters inspired, by Vietnamese mythology. This is perhaps similar to the Dragons in Zen Choís novels although the setting is very different.
House Hawthorn, and Thuan the dragon co-head of the House with Asmodeus, find themselves under threat, and the fragile peace in Paris shattered, when House Harrier, which is based on adjacent land, is destroyed with a powerful explosion. They donít know the source of the attack and whether they will be next.
Emmanuelle, the lover of the head of House Silverspire is caught in House Harrierís land when the explosion went off and now has some difficulty extracting herself from the fall out to get to safety and to figure out what actually happened. We the reader, are equally unknowing and drawn into the mystery though her eyes.
Phillipe, the exiled dragon in Paris, is asked to free a captive and return home. Of course that is not as simple or easy as it sounds, and his loyalties are torn in more than one direction.
The world-building in this novel, because it is so different from other fantasy novels I have read, makes it perhaps a more difficult read, but also why it is so satisfying to do so. De Bodard writing is beautifully descriptive and flowing, her characters are relatable even when they are angels or dragons.
The competing Houses show the human instinct to draw up walls around ourselves and our loved ones, but the direction of the plot shows us how foolish those instincts can be, that the coming together of larger communities is, in this case literally, the only way to survive.
The inclusion of queers, non-binary and homoseχual characters and relationships in fiction such as this, with no explanation or apology, helps to normalise these in a real world which is not always so accepting.
This is an intriguing and complex tale with fascinating characters that is very much worth reading.
See also Arthur's take on The House of Sundering Flames.
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