The first inkling that things were going wrong was when the voices in Oanh's room fell silent.
–Aliette de Bodard - In the Vanisher's palace - c.2018
How do people survive after colonisation and enslavement? What happens to a society that has been stamped out when those invaders leave, and all that remains is damage and pain?
It’s a fascinating question, and I would gladly read more about the post-Vanishers world that de Boddard has created for this novella, because although that world-building is essential to the story here it isn’t the heart of it. At the heart of In the Vanishers’ palace is a coming of age story. Yên is sold to a dragon, but even before that she had no place in her village and was constantly living in fear of no longer being useful. For those who have no use have no place in the village and an extremely unpleasant death waits for you.
A failed scholar Yên had dreams of so much more, of freedom, of saving her mother from that fate. And now she is forced to live as a slave to a dragon.
Beauty and the Beast is cited as inspiration for this story, albeit here de Boddard actually considers what it must be like to develop feelings for your “master”, and whether it is even possible when the power differential between two people is so vast. After all, if you can’t say no then neither can you say yes.
I really liked this story, I’ve enjoyed all of de Boddard’s writing, especially because it is set in such a different ‘verse than I am used to. I love the Vietnamese allusions even if they do somewhat slow my reading down. I’m used to fake-europe in my fantasy books, I’m used to US-society in my sci-fi. It’s great to come across something different and well written, even if I do prefer my dragons more Pern than shape-shifter. That’s a personal preference though, a Pern-esque dragons would definitely NOT have worked in this book, that’d just… nope lets not even go there.