A fascinating world with many different characters whose lives all interlock
Following on from The House of Shattered Wings, The House of Binding Thorns can be read alone, although it continues to tell the stories of Madeline, Asmodeus and Philippe after the events of the first novel. My review of The House of Shattered Wings, can be found here. Reading the first novel helps in terms of continuity as well as giving more information on The Fallen and how they came to be in this world.
In the previous novel, we saw the destruction of House Silverspires which was once the strongest of the houses, it is now a house hoping to rebuild. During those events, we were introduced to Madeline, an angel essence addict, who had sought sanctuary in House Silverspires after Asmodeus’ brutal takeover of her former home, House Hawthorne. Madeline, is now back in Asmodeus’ clutches, a virtual prisoner fearing that he may kill her on a whim, but Madeline is not ready to die just yet. Madeline knows that for all of Asmodeus’ disdain, he views her as his property and Asmodeus is all about keeping the House strong and safe, which includes the people who live there and fall under his protection whether they want it or not. All Asmodeus asks in return is that they give him their loyalty.
Asmodeus is also looking to strengthen House Hawthorn from outside threats and is in the midst of negotiations with the mostly hidden Dragon Kingdom under the Seine. This alliance will be sealed with Asmodeus’ marriage to one of Ngoc Bich relatives, which should on first glance strengthen both the House and the Kingdom, but as we see both sides are looking to benefit from the other, neither wanting to give up too much, even if the game of diplomacy is threatened by hidden enemies on all sides.
Philippe has chosen to hide amongst the Annamite community, helping where he can, by pretending to be a human doctor. Philippe is driven by guilt over how he couldn’t help Isabelle in the previous novel, so while keeping a low profile he shields his magic so that he will never become a pawn in another house. After an encounter with François and Berith though, Philippe doesn’t really have a choice when he is offered a chance to redeem his previous actions.
The main characters are each on their own path which draws them into new intrigues and over expenditure of their powers. It is interesting to see how the repercussions of the war have not only affected the world above, but also the very fabric of the Dragon Kingdoms existence. This world is full of decay and people grasping to hold on to power. I really enjoyed getting to see how House Hawthorn runs in contrast to House Silverspears, again this impression is taken from the perspective of an outsider, this time from Thuan’s view. Thuan has one of the most difficult tasks as he is a spy in Asmodeus’ home, and we all know what Asmodeus does to traitors.
The House of Binding Thorns is a book about diplomacy and hidden truths, with deals that benefit one side more than the other and old grudges resurfacing. There are so many factions to watch out for, with allies becoming enemies and vice versa. This is also a book full of diversity and characters whose strength is not always in the magic they possess. It was interesting to see a community living outside of the House system, who may not be thriving but continue to build and support one another. Aliette de Bodard has created a fascinating world with many different characters whose lives all interlock, all heading to something different from what was there before.
Review by Michelle Herbert
Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. She is the author of The House of Shattered Wings, a novel se [...]
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