My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Aliette de Bodard’s In the Vanishers’ Palace does not simply transfer Beauty and Beast into a science fiction milieu. de Bodard does not merely swap gender identity and throw in a dragon. She strips a familiar fairy tale down to its essence—a woman from a low social position forced into an imbalanced relationship with a powerful stranger in a magical environment—and then deftly recontextualizes the characters to explore contemporary concerns. The ecological and social destruction wrought by the Vanishers is a curse upon everyone, interrogating the links between colonialism and social responses toward environmental disaster and poverty. Yên’s purpose is not to break a curse on a man, but to bring about transformation via education for those around her and for herself, all female or nonbinary, all victims of abusers, both recent and long gone. Vu Côn is both the beast and the magic-wielding fairy, not imprisoned and ensorcelled, but a lonely single mother worried about the consequences of letting her powerful children loose from their restricted existence, exposed to a world they must live in but that will challenge and attack them for the legacy of their progenitors. Motifs of imprisonment, oppression, abuse of power, knowledge and self-determination, racism, and social justice thread through the story like the characters of the magical spells Yên is so desperate to learn. The only path forward is to master those spells and be deliberate in the intent to care for others and make the world a better place. This novella packs a punch, and I believe it will have an enduring legacy as a masterful transformation of a fairy tale.