Bringing your husband home for the holidays can be stressful at the best of times. Thuan is married to an over-protective angel who is keen on hurting people, and the festivities are set to involve palace intrigue and murder. Happy new year?
My great comfort on finishing The House of Sundering Flames was the knowledge that Aliette de Bodard is not, it seems, done with her magnificent Gothic world of post-magical-apocalytic Paris. The core trilogy may be over, but there’s room for spin-off stories exploring favourite characters and themes. At least, there’s one more for now, but given the various side stories and vignettes de Bodard has treated us to in the past, I’m taking this as a promise others may follow, okay? Okay.
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders is set after The House of Sundering Flames, although for those wary of spoilers there are (as best I recall) none, other than certain characters – and their marriage – survive.
The dragon kingdom has reopened its gates to its House-bound son, and Thuan has brought Asmodeus home to take part in the Lunar New Year festivities. It’s hard to say what makes Thuan more nervous: his fresh-minted awareness of how easy it would be to mis-step amidst the warring factions of the dragon court, or the likelihood that his tetchy outsider of a husband will upset someone (deliberately or otherwise). Consequently, when a dead body is found near their rooms, Thuan’s first – erroneous – assumption is that Asmodeus is responsible. Before a bored Asmodeus can say ‘who can I torture to help you with that’, Thuan has promised his cousin that he’ll investigate.
Where the books offered flirtation, sexual tension and relationship insecurity (of the ‘yes but will he stab me’ variety), Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder gives us a lingering look inside the Dominion of the Fallen’s most challenging marriage. And… it’s adorable, you guys. Thuan and Asmodeus have never been able to hide their attraction to one another, but here we see how they have relaxed into their relationship. There is bickering and provoking; but there’s also concern and support, if not always approval. They’re a partnership, and frankly I can’t get enough of it.
I have always adored Thuan, the closest Dominion has to a cinnamon roll. Ironically, the bookish prince with the sweeping sense of fairness and duty is as uncomfortable in the dragon palace as we ever saw him in Hawthorn. He has no intention of backing out of his promise to help Hong Chi – least of all when he realises that the dragon kingdom still teeters on the edge of insurrection, with faith in the ruling family being actively under-mined by a devious plot.
Thuan’s greatest flaw has always been his naïveté; this time it is inextricably wrapped up in his privilege. The dragon kingdom is shamelessly elitist, and he lived a fairly sheltered life within it. Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder fleshes out the underwater world, exploring its hierarchies and inequalities with cruel-tongued Asmodeus on hand to make incisive comments and – occasionally – offer unexpected sympathy.
I’ve never made a secret of my attachment to Asmodeus. I like a character who embraces that he’s a villain; and I love a villain who has unexpected depths – in this case, loyalty to his own. Asmodeus will walk through fire to protect any dependent of House Hawthorn, and his protective instincts are on full display as it becomes evident that Thuan is out of his depth.
Cue a twitchy, exasperated murder angel with no moral or emotional investment in protecting Second Aunt and the dragon court; and a conscientious do-gooder prince who really doesn’t want to see his family assassinated in a coup. Expect romance and some stabbing as the twin Heads of House Hawthorn renew their commitment to complicating one another’s lives.
I’m a sucker for a fun murder mystery, especially when it adds layers to well-known characters and is served with a side of on-point social commentary (Aliette de Bodard never lets her own world-building off the hook, and I love her for it). While I felt the novella got off to a slightly awkward start (it doesn’t assume you have read the trilogy, so expects some exposition as it lays down some context), once the set-up is complete Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder expands the world of the Dominion of the Fallen in the best possible way.
Bonus content: Thuan’s terrifying torture-grandma, who thinks Asmodeus is cute.
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder is released tomorrow (July 7th).
I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review