Of Ghosts, Charms and Grievances

Book cover: Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances - Aliette de BodardFor some couples, holidays are a relaxing break by the beach with a book. For others, it’s political intrigue and murder all the way down – although Asmodeus did bring a book, just in case…

I love Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen trilogy – a dark, tense series of the powers of post-apocalyptic Paris eating one another in an escalating series of political and magical misadventures – but I think I love the spin-off novellas even more. Rebadged as Dragons and Blades stories, Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances is the second stand-alone mini-adventure for the Dominion’s most unlikely happily married couple. We rejoin Thuan the scholarly dragon prince and Asmodeus the annual winner of the Fallen most likely to stab you and enjoy it once again in the dragon kingdom. It’s meant to be a holiday, but Asmodeus enjoys the dragon kingdom about as much as it enjoys him and they haven’t left all their responsibilities behind – they brought their nieces along with them.

Yes, this is the novella where we revisit Asmodeus’s intriguing relationship with children. It’s easy to forget that this imperious Fallen with his sharp tailoring and sharper knives was responsible for House Hawthorn’s Court of Birth before he stabbed his way through the ranks to become its leader. While his taste in bedtime stories may make protective parents’ hair stand on end, there’s no faulting his safeguarding instincts – whether it’s putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of a child (any child), or giving them specific advice on what to do with the knives they’ve managed to secret about their persons (Asmodeus gonna Asmodeus).

A quiet day out ends in drama when a ghost child reveals herself and shows the little family a murdered corpse at an isolated shrine. Thuan is horrified, but Asmodeus – predictably, but no less delightfully – is entirely too keen to get involved. And the girls? They promptly make friends with the ghost, of course.

Where Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder showed us how much of a partnership this marriage has become, Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances creates a crack and applies pressure to see if it will open an unbridgeable chasm. Unfinished business keeps a ghost in the world, but they need blood to stay tethered to it; Thuan’s instincts are to protect his family and to ensure no further dragon corpses appear at their door. In Asmodeus’s eyes, the ghost is a child who needs his protection rather than hungry and dangerous. It’s not a subtle distinction: it’s the gulf between embracing a monster who poses an unacceptable risk to themselves and others, and an indisputable duty of care. There’s room for everyone to feel disappointed in their loved ones…

…and that’s before they find themselves under magical attack by the mysterious murderer.

Cue bureaucratic intrigue, terrifying magic, a brilliant supporting cast (even Asmodeus approves of them) and the sort of everyday villainy that I love to see challenged. While I delighted in scenes of dragon-riding and the spectacular charms of the title, I mostly enjoyed how family-oriented this novella felt: the stakes are acutely personal as Asmodeus puts himself at risk and Thuan grapples with his Fallen husband’s perspective.

These novellas build on foundations laid in the original trilogy, but they give you enough context to work as a point of entry into this dark, magical universe of walking myths and urbane monsters. That said, I would recommend starting with Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder to get the most out of Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances – while events are not linked, a great deal of the fun is rooted in understanding Asmodeus’s instincts and Thuan’s blind spots – not to mention the push and pull of their political marriage turned love match.

I love the way the novellas are developing these characters and this relationship; Thuan grappling with aspects of his own culture and upbringing (and his overwhelming desire for his husband) and Asmodeus always a fish out of water in the dragon kingdom beneath the Seine. I also love that where last time we met Thuan’s fearsome grandmother, this time we meet an ex who shows why Thuan has adapted so well to life with Asmodeus… he doesn’t have a type, honestly.

It’s always a joy to be back in this world with these characters.

I received a free advance copy from the author. This did not influence the content of my review.

OF GHOSTS, CHARMS AND GRIEVANCES is available now in ebook and paperback.