Tim Hicks's Reviews > The House of Binding Thorns

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard
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So, this book is best understood after you have read the "Further Reading" notes at the end.
Y'see, this is an allegory on the early history of French interference in Vietnam, merged with the story of the British running opium into China, but set in Paris (sort of) with dragons and magic.

"Not gonna work," you think, and I fear you are right.

First off, some Parisian places are named, but for all that they are tied to the story we might as well have been in Barsoom or Lyonesse.

Second, there are way too many characters, and far too much use of redshirts, the guards and peasants who are in the book only to be slaughtered by the lead characters.

At times, it's a tribute to Zola (mentioned in the author's notes.) Other times it's almost like the sketch for a graphic novel or a CGI movie.

Halfway through, I shouted that if Olympe called someone "Child" once more I was going to throw the book across the room and never pick it up again. Oddly, just at that point the author stopped doing it. And the notes suggest that the "child" thing may have to do with Vietnamese pronouns. A quick Wikipedia told me I'm not going down THAT rabbit hole in the foreseeable future.

So, we follow Madeleine a lot. She's a classic viewpoint character, going "der" a lot and shuffling from key scene to key scene without ever really surfacing. But there's a reason for it, and in the end she matters, so it's all good.

Berith and Francoise were OK, I guess, as peripheral people just trying to get by. Still not sure about Thuan and Philippe, both of whom seem to carry some pretty heavy magic chops but are in a fog most of the time.

Speaking of fog, the whole dragons-under-the-Seine was a giant WTF in which apparently you and I can, if invited, just walk into the river and carry on as if we were not underwater. Felt all cartoony to me, because if it isn't there's some magic power here that is way beyond what the key characters carry.

In the end, it's an interesting rollout of a few people who perhaps appear conscienceless but do have something they are loyal to in a very difficult world. This is, of course, displayed by forcing them to deal with characters who may not have such well-developed moral compasses.

I'm not really looking forward to a third book in this series, but I will look for more work by this author. I'll be looking for a little less emphasis on lesser-known historical and cultural details. Terry Pratchett struck a nice balance in some of his fantasy books that are loosely based on history, such as Night Watch or Monstrous Regiment.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
May 4, 2017 – Shelved
May 4, 2017 – Shelved as: fantasy
May 4, 2017 – Finished Reading

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