Aliette De Bodard takes us back to her devastated alternate Paris with a beautifully written and utterly compelling follow-up to her excellent debut The House Of Shattered Wings. The story picks up quickly after the events that concluded the previous novel, and the author spins a tale that’s rich, emotional and gripping, and delivers that rare thing: a superior sequel.
Angel essence-addicted Madeleine’s worst nightmares have come true: she’s back in House Hawthorn and faced with a terrifying choice: give up her addiction and pledge allegiance to the brutal House ruler Asmodeus (the angel who killed her friends and sent her crawling to House Silverspires), or agree to be killed by him. The promise of sweet release is appealing, but when she realises that he would pick the method, she chooses to live.
Meanwhile, the immortal Phillipe is in hiding, living as a doctor on the streets of Paris and ravaged with guilt over the death of Isabelle. When he encounters the Fallen Berith and her pregnant partner Francoise, he is given the opportunity to put things right…for a price. It all comes back to Hawthorn, where Asmodeus is sending a team, including Madeleine, down under the Seine to meet with the Annamite dragons to arrange a wedding treaty. But if everyone’s getting along, why can no one find Hawthorn’s original messenger?
While the focus in the first novel was very much on Silverspires, Binding Thorns is essentially a Hawthorn story. There are multiple POV characters, including Madeline, Phillipe, undercover spy Thuan and Francoise, but everything is connected to the most powerful House in Paris. As the story progresses, De Bodard skilfully adds shading to each one of the characters, even the apparently heartless Asmodeus, and we see just how fragile the balance of power is and the damage the struggle has done and will continue to do.
This is an incredibly rich novel. Even as the scheming, double-crossing and action set pieces unfold, the author never loses sight of the people whose lives are on the line. The real standouts are Francoise and Berith. The former has been shunned by her community for living with a Fallen, although she will definitely need help when it comes time to deliver her baby, and the latter is hugely powerful but slowly dying, and will need to call on her Fallen partner and the protection of her old house if she wants to keep her lover and baby safe.
The hierarchical world of the Houses contrasts with the richly detailed kingdom under the Seine, with fantastic creatures (some of whom choose to mask their dragon nature, some of whom do not), and a once-great society in the throes of crumbling. Their efforts to live apart from the Fallen have failed due to the encroaching influence of the angel essence, which has had a devastating impact.
There’s just so much going on here: social commentary, myths and fairytales that often feel under-represented in genre fiction, a gripping genre adventure and an affecting love story. The author has gone from strength to strength and we can’t wait for this story to continue.