The House of Binding Thorns
by Aliette de Bodard
368pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.8/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.25/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.13/5

The House of Binding Thorns by Nebula Award–winning author Aliette de Bodard is the second novel in the Dominion of the Fallen series, a dark Gothic fantasy set in the ruins of an alternate Paris containing fallen angels, magic, and a dragon kingdom under the Seine. Though it follows events in the previous novel set in this world, BSFA Award winner The House of Shattered Wings, it’s considered a standalone sequel: it shifts the focus from House Silverspires to House Hawthorn and the dragon kingdom, and while it follows a couple of the same characters as the first novel, it also introduces some new ones. It’s certainly not absolutely necessary to read The House of Shattered Wings first (and, personally, I much prefer the newer book), but it would probably be helpful to do so since this novel does continue the stories of some of the same characters.

After the head of Silverspires learned of their House alchemist’s angel essence addiction, she dismissed Madeleine from their protection. Madeleine was then reclaimed by Asmodeus of Hawthorn, who has haunted her nightmares ever since she crawled away from this House twenty years ago—the night of the violent coup that ended with Asmodeus’ ascension to the head of House Hawthorn, many deaths, and her own severe injuries that never completely healed.

Once Madeleine has been weaned off the drug, Asmodeus presents her with a choice that is not much of a choice: she must pledge her loyalty to him and avoid relapsing in order to serve the House, or he’ll “release her.” Shortly after obtaining her oath of fealty, Asmodeus informs her that he intends for her to accompany a Seine-bound delegation that will be negotiating a formal alliance between Hawthorn and the dragon kingdom through Asmodeus’ betrothal to a dragon prince. All is not well in the dragon kingdom, and the diplomats find the dragons appear sick and frightened, there seem to be divisions among them, and the envoy Hawthorn sent to pave the delegation’s way has not been seen in three days—and no one knows what happened to her.

The cause of the dragon kingdom’s vulnerability is a recent influx of angel essence that has left many of its inhabitants skeletal with easily broken antlers. Considering that Hawthorn is the closest House to the Seine and the one that would benefit the most from their weakness, the dragons believed them to be a possible culprit and sent one of their own, Thuan, to infiltrate the House. For the last six months, Thuan has been acting the part of a young Annamite mortal seeking to become a dependent of the House, but in fact he has been trying to uncover the source of the angel essence destroying his kingdom—before it’s too late.

Despite its power, Hawthorn has enemies of its own, and both the House and the dragon kingdom may need to work together to survive—or they may fall together.

Though it featured an intriguing world and some lovely prose, I felt The House of Shattered Wings was hindered by too much narrative introspection that didn’t add to the story or advance the characterization, making parts of it rather dull (my review). In the end, it had enough strengths that I ended up deciding to give The House of Binding Thorns a chance, especially after learning it focused on House Hawthorn and Asmodeus, who was one of the more compelling characters from the previous book—and I’m happy I did since it’s a far superior novel.

Like the first Dominion of the Fallen novel, The House of Binding Thorns features some beautiful writing, and its further exploration of the world allows this to shine even more as it brings to life the wonder and decay of the dragon kingdom, the creepiness of a certain copse of trees, and other parts of the devastated Paris that de Bodard has created. While the perspectives in The House of Shattered Wings were limited to characters within House Silverspires, this novel’s point of view characters are both inside and outside of Hawthorn:

  • Madeleine, an angel essence addict and alchemist sent to the dragon kingdom as part of Hawthorn’s delegation (her story is continued from the previous book, in which she was part of House Silverspires)
  • Thuan, a several-decades-old dragon posing as a teenage Annamite boy in Hawthorn in order to investigate their potential involvement in the affairs of the dragon kingdom
  • Philippe, a former Immortal of the Jade Emperor’s court desperately trying to learn how to resurrect a dead friend (his story is continued from the previous book, in which he was in House Silverspires against his will)
  • Francoise, an Annamite woman on the edges of the Annamite community because they disapprove of her choice to love a Fallen (Berith, Asmodeus’ dying Fall-sister)

While I still felt each of them could have been fleshed out with more distinct narrative voices, I did find both Madeleine and Philippe’s stories and characters were more engaging than in the previous book. Madeleine’s struggles as an addict and a traumatized victim of Hawthorn’s coup are sympathetic and heartfelt, and though she wasn’t my favorite character, I enjoyed her story since the dragon kingdom was mostly viewed through her eyes. By far, my favorite point of view character was Thuan—his secret identity added some tension since there’s always the possibility of his discovery, and though dutiful to his kingdom, he also grapples a little with guilt over lying to those within the House who have treated him kindly (plus I love dragons!). However, I thought Francoise was the most fascinating and well-drawn character even if I preferred following some of the others’ stories.

Out of the four main characters, Francoise is probably the most “ordinary” and least powerful. She’s not a dragon or magician (though Berith can temporarily lend her some of her magic) nor does she have the power that comes from being part of a House, which makes the way she approaches challenges all the more admirable. She bravely faces Asmodeus, a Fallen feared by even Philippe and Thuan, on more than one occasion, and is a pillar of inner strength and resilience—and, unusually for fantasy, she does it all while pregnant or recovering from a difficult birth.

In general, The House of Binding Thorns is a unique addition to the speculative fiction genre. Though themes of community and belonging are not uncommon in stories, these are deftly and thoughtfully handled here, and it also examines post-colonialism with inspiration from France’s interference in Vietnam and the Opium Wars. Like many fantasy novels, it has an emphasis on power and those who wield it, but I found its approach to power struggles refreshing. Various characters and factions are grasping for dominance, but many of them do not seem to be doing so out of greed or a desire to become powerful, but mainly for survival—not only their own, but that of those they care about or their community as a whole. Despite a plethora of powerful characters with dragons, magicians, and Fallen, there is some balance and no one is so secure that they do not fear anyone else.

As mentioned, Asmodeus instills terror in even dragons and former Immortals due to his notorious ruthlessness and, though not a point of view character, he’s a fascinating character who tends to steal the show. He’s still somewhat mysterious since we only see him through the eyes of others, but it is shown that he does have a moral code of sorts since he tends to keep his word and look out for Hawthorn’s dependents—and there are even a couple of times some vulnerability shines through the mask he presents to the world.

The House of Binding Thorns further develops the world of the Dominion of the Fallen and is much stronger and more memorable than the previously published novel. It’s more engaging and better paced with gorgeous, atmospheric writing that fits the story and setting (of course, more focus on the dragon kingdom is quite welcome too!). Though more compelling than in The House of Shattered Wings, the characters did not seem as distinct or “alive” as I would have liked, but other than that, I thought The House of Binding Thorns was a standout novel.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Related Links:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

It’s not exactly a “leaning pile” this week since there’s only one book to cover, but it’s one I’m quite happy to see re-released!

Perilous Prophecy by Leanna Renee Hieber

Perilous Prophecy (A Strangely Beautiful Novel) by Leanna Renee Hieber

This new revised edition of the Prism Award–winning prequel to Strangely Beautiful was released last week (trade paperback, ebook). You can read chapter two of Perilous Prophecy right here on Fantasy Café, as well as Leanna Renee Hieber’s essay on Gothic literature titled “The Gothic as a Canary in Fear’s Coal Mine.”


Cairo in the 1860s is a bustling metropolis where people from all walks of life mix and mingle, mostly in complex harmony. When evil ghosts and unquiet spirits stalk the city’s streets, the Guard are summoned―six young men and women of different cultures, backgrounds, and faiths, gifted by their Goddess with great powers.

While others of the Guard embrace their duties, their leader, British-born Beatrice, is gripped by doubt. What right has she, a bookish, sheltered, eighteen-year-old, to lead others into battle? Why isn’t dark-eyed, compelling Ibrahim, who is stronger of will than Beatrice, the one in charge?

Ghosts maraud through Cairo’s streets, heralding a terrible darkness. Beatrice and her Guard have little time to master their powers; a great battle looms as an ancient prophecy roars toward its final, deadly conclusion.

This enchanting prequel to Leanna Renee Hieber’s gaslamp fantasy, Strangely Beautiful, returns to print after more than a decade, edited and revised for Tor’s publication.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

One book that I’m very excited about showed up in the mail a couple of days ago, but first, here are last week’s posts in case you missed either of them:

The Tiger's Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera

The Tiger’s Daughter (Their Bright Ascendancy #1) by K Arsenault Rivera

This epic fantasy, K Arsenault Rivera’s debut novel, will be released on October 3 (trade paperback, ebook). Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from The Tiger’s Daughter.

This sounds fantastic, and I also love the cover.


Even gods can be slain

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

A crack in the wall heralds the end…two goddesses arm themselves…K Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter is an adventure for the ages.

Additional Books:

Since the beginning of 2016, I have been reading and reviewing one book a month based on the results of a poll on PatreonAll of these monthly reviews can be viewed here.

June’s theme is fantasy of manners. It’s a subgenre that I tend to enjoy, and I’ve been in the mood to read more fantasy of manners novels lately so I scoured my shelves for books I’ve heard fit into this category. The June book selections were as follows:

The June book is…

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett
The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

In this enchanting debut novel, Galen Beckett weaves a dazzling spell of adventure and suspense, evoking a world of high magick and genteel society—a world where one young woman discovers that her modest life is far more extraordinary than she ever imagined.

Of the three Lockwell sisters—romantic Lily, prophetic Rose, and studious Ivy—all agree that it’s the eldest, the book-loving Ivy, who has held the family together ever since their father’s retreat into his silent vigil in the library upstairs. Everyone blames Mr. Lockwell’s malady on his magickal studies, but Ivy alone still believes—both in magic and in its power to bring her father back.

But there are others in the world who believe in magick as well. Over the years, Ivy has glimpsed them—the strangers in black topcoats and hats who appear at the door, strangers of whom their mother will never speak. Ivy once thought them secret benefactors, but now she’s not so certain.

After tragedy strikes, Ivy takes a job with the reclusive Mr. Quent in a desperate effort to preserve her family. It’s only then that she discovers the fate she shares with a jaded young nobleman named Dashton Rafferdy, his ambitious friend Eldyn Garritt, and a secret society of highwaymen, revolutionaries, illusionists, and spies who populate the island nation of Altania.

For there is far more to Altania than meets the eye and more to magick than mere fashion. And in the act of saving her father, Ivy will determine whether the world faces a new dawn—or an everlasting night. . . .

I’ve been wanting to read this since I first heard about it and was especially intrigued by it after reading Thea’s excellent review of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent  on The Book Smugglers—so I’m very much looking forward to it!

Book Description from Penguin Random House (CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR FOOL’S ASSASSIN and FOOL’S QUEST):

More than twenty years ago, the first epic fantasy novel featuring FitzChivalry Farseer and his mysterious, often maddening friend the Fool struck like a bolt of brilliant lightning. Now New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb brings to a momentous close the third trilogy featuring these beloved characters in a novel of unsurpassed artistry that is sure to endure as one of the great masterworks of the genre.

Fitz’s young daughter, Bee, has been kidnapped by the Servants, a secret society whose members not only dream of possible futures but use their prophecies to add to their wealth and influence. Bee plays a crucial part in these dreams—but just what part remains uncertain.

As Bee is dragged by her sadistic captors across half the world, Fitz and the Fool, believing her dead, embark on a mission of revenge that will take them to the distant island where the Servants reside—a place the Fool once called home and later called prison. It was a hell the Fool escaped, maimed and blinded, swearing never to return.

For all his injuries, however, the Fool is not as helpless as he seems. He is a dreamer too, able to shape the future. And though Fitz is no longer the peerless assassin of his youth, he remains a man to be reckoned with—deadly with blades and poison, and adept in Farseer magic. And their goal is simple: to make sure not a single Servant survives their scourge.

Assassin’s Fate, the third book in Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool trilogy and the sixteenth novel set in the Realm of the Elderlings, was one of my top most anticipated books of 2017 since I loved both the previous books, Fool’s Assassin and Fool’s Quest. Like my reviews of the preceding installments, I’m not going to discuss Assassin’s Fate in depth to avoid spoilers: after all, this is the conclusion to the third trilogy about FitzChivalry Farseer, as well as the fifth series in this world. If you’ve read this far, you know what the series is about and probably don’t want to read any plot-related details (and if you haven’t read these books and enjoy character-driven fantasy, magic and kingdoms, animal companions, and dragons, and you don’t mind angst or books in which characters endure significant hardship, start with the first book in the Farseer trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice).

Although I found it nearly impossible to put down throughout the last 40% or so, Assassin’s Fate is my least favorite book in this trilogy mainly because the first 60% of it seemed excessively long. While Fool’s Assassin was not at all fast paced, it was riveting due to the characters and their relationships—and those were just not as compelling in this final installment as in the first (or second) book, even though there were still some great scenes. At first, I wondered if I found it less engaging than the previous installments due to a lack of familiarity with the characters from the Rain Wilds Chronicles quartet, the only Realm of the Elderlings novels I have not yet read. Yet I still found it slow even after it shifted to primarily focusing on this trilogy’s characters and some who appeared in previous books I had read, plus the second storyline also seemed longer than necessary. The journeys seemed to drag on and on, and there were not a lot of interesting plot or character developments throughout these pages—nor were there many interesting interactions between the characters who have been present throughout this trilogy.

Once the traveling finally came to an end, the book was quite readable complete with more excitement and Epic Events. Though this trilogy is primarily focused on Fitz and characters close to him, occurrences in Assassin’s Fate have some large ramifications for the liveship merchants and include revelations involving dragons (and fantastic scenes involving dragons!), and the ties to these other series are some of the best parts.

As with all of Hobb’s books, one of the most memorable aspects is the emotional journey, but I didn’t think that measured up to previous books in the series: these parts seemed rushed, especially after reading so many pages that meandered. Though heartbreaking, even the ending didn’t hit me as hard as I would have expected. It was so heavily foreshadowed that it wasn’t surprising to me, but predictable scenes in Hobb’s books have often managed to elicit strong feeling—the characters just didn’t seem as vivid in this novel to me as in others, and I think that also affected my experience with it.

Although I’m glad I finished the Fitz and the Fool trilogy since there are some momentous scenes that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss, I did feel that Assassin’s Fate was a bit disappointing compared to most of the other Realm of the Elderlings novels. While Hobb’s deft characterization usually keeps me invested despite any slow pacing, more than half of this installment seemed far too drawn out for both the amount of plot and character development it contained. It does eventually become more engaging with more action and compelling character interaction, but many of these parts have the opposite issue with pacing and seem too rushed, especially considering they follow a large portion containing little of interest. It’s still a keeper as an important volume in the series, but it doesn’t have the same high quality I’ve come to expect from these books (although you should probably take my opinion with a grain of salt since most readers seem to think better of it than I do!).

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week brought some books that sound rather intriguing, especially the first and last (which I didn’t feature with the cover and description today because I already featured it earlier this year). The first of these includes many well-known authors, and the last is a soon-to-be-released debut novel.

The Book of Swords edited by Gardner Dozois

The Book of Swords edited by Gardner Dozois

This anthology will be released on October 10 (hardcover, ebook). As you can see in the book description below, it contains an incredible lineup of authors including but not limited to George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, Ken Liu, Kate Elliott, and C. J. Cherryh.

George R. R. Martin’s “The Sons of the Dragon” is a tale from the past set in the same world as A Song of Ice and Fire (and, as can be guessed from the title, it’s about Targaryens).

Robin Hobb’s “Her Father’s Sword” is set in the Realm of the Elderlings and features FitzChivalry Farseer.


New epic fantasy in the grand tradition—including a never-before-published Song of Ice and Fire story by George R. R. Martin!

Fantasy fiction has produced some of the most unforgettable heroes ever conjured onto the page: Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Classic characters like these made sword and sorcery a storytelling sensation, a cornerstone of fantasy fiction—and an inspiration for a new generation of writers, spinning their own outsize tales of magic and swashbuckling adventure.

Now, in The Book of Swords, acclaimed editor and bestselling author Gardner Dozois presents an all-new anthology of original epic tales by a stellar cast of award-winning modern masters—many of them set in their authors’ best-loved worlds. Join today’s finest tellers of fantastic tales, including George R. R. Martin, K. J. Parker, Robin Hobb, Ken Liu, C. J. Cherryh, Daniel Abraham, Lavie Tidhar, Ellen Kushner, and more on action-packed journeys into the outer realms of dark enchantment and intrepid derring-do, featuring a stunning assortment of fearless swordsmen and warrior women who face down danger and death at every turn with courage, cunning, and cold steel.


“The Best Man Wins” by K. J. Parker
“Her Father’s Sword” by Robin Hobb
“The Hidden Girl” by Ken Liu
“The Sword of Destiny” by Matthew Hughes
“‘I Am a Handsome Man,’ Said Apollo Crow” by Kate Elliott
“The Triumph of Virtue” by Walter Jon Williams
“The Mocking Tower” by Daniel Abraham
“Hrunting” by C. J. Cherryh
“A Long, Cold Trail” by Garth Nix
“When I Was a Highwayman” by Ellen Kushner
“The Smoke of Gold Is Glory” by Scott Lynch
“The Colgrid Conundrum” by Rich Larson
“The King’s Evil” by Elizabeth Bear
“Waterfalling” by Lavie Tidhar
“The Sword Tyraste” by Cecelia Holland
“The Sons of the Dragon” by George R. R. Martin
And an introduction by Gardner Dozois

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon

This collection of Outlander-related stories (mainly novellas) by #1 New York Times bestselling author Diana Gabaldon, including two new novellas, will be released on June 27 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

For more information such as a brief description of each story and a couple of excerpts, see the Seven Stones to Stand or Fall page on Diana Gabaldon’s website.


A magnificent collection of Outlander short fiction—including two never-before-published novellas—featuring Jamie Fraser, Lord John Grey, Master Raymond, and many more, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Diana Gabaldon

“The Custom of the Army” begins with Lord John Grey being shocked by an electric eel and ends at the Battle of Quebec. Then comes “The Space Between,” where it is revealed that the Comte St. Germain is not dead, Master Raymond appears, and a widowed young wine dealer escorts a would-be novice to a convent in Paris. In “A Plague of Zombies,” Lord John unexpectedly becomes military governor of Jamaica when the original governor is gnawed by what probably wasn’t a giant rat. “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” is the moving story of Roger MacKenzie’s parents during World War II. In “Virgins,” Jamie Fraser, aged nineteen, and Ian Murray, aged twenty, become mercenaries in France, no matter that neither has yet bedded a lass or killed a man. But they’re trying. . . . “A Fugitive Green” is the story of Lord John’s elder brother, Hal, and a seventeen-year-old rare book dealer with a sideline in theft, forgery, and blackmail. And finally, in “Besieged,” Lord John learns that his mother is in Havana—and that the British Navy is on their way to lay siege to the city.

Filling in mesmerizing chapters in the lives of characters readers have followed over the course of thousands of pages, Gabaldon’s genius is on full display throughout this must-have collection.

The Bones of the Earth by Rachel Dunne

The Bones of the Earth (Bound Gods #2) by Rachel Dunne

The second Bound Gods novel will be released on June 27 (trade paperback, ebook).

The Harper Collins website has a sample from In the Shadow of the Gods, the first Bound Gods novel.


A mismatched band of mortals and their violent, secretive leader must stand against a pair of resentful gods to save their world in this second volume in Rachel Dunne’s breathtaking dark epic fantasy trilogy, The Bound Gods, which began with In the Shadow of the Gods.

To win the coming battle for control of the world and the mortals who dwell in it, the cunning priest Joros secretly assembled a team of powerful fighters—Scal, a lost and damaged swordsman from the North; Vatri, a scarred priestess who claims to see the future in her fires; Anddyr, a drug-addled mage wandering between sanity and madness; and Rora and Aro, a pair of twins who have secretly survived beyond the reach of the law.

But the war is only beginning for these disparate warriors and victory is far from certain when the enemy is a pair of vengeful gods. As the bound Twins strengthen in force against their parents—the Divine Mother and Almighty Father—who exiled them, a shadow begins to spread across the land, threatening to engulf all in its wake.

As deadly magic takes hold, the tenuous bonds tying these uneasy allies begins to unravel. If they cannot find a way to keep their band together, each of their lives—and the entire world—will be lost to the darkness, leaving nothing but the bones of the earth. . . .

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

A Plague of Giants (Seven Kennings #1) by Kevin Hearne

The first book in this upcoming epic fantasy trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Kevin Hearne will be released on October 17 (hardcover, ebook).

Unbound Worlds has an interview with Kevin Hearne discussing A Plague of Giants.


From the author of The Iron Druid Chronicles, a thrilling novel that kicks off a fantasy series with an entirely new mythology—complete with shape-shifting bards, fire-wielding giants, and children who can speak to astonishing beasts

Tallynd is a soldier who has already survived her toughest battle: losing her husband. But now she finds herself on the front lines of an invasion of giants, intent on wiping out the entire kingdom, including Tallynd’s two sons—all that she has left. The stakes have never been higher. If Tallynd fails, her boys may never become men.

Dervan is an historian who longs for a simple, quiet life. But he’s drawn into intrigue when he’s hired to record the tales of a mysterious bard who may be a spy or even an assassin for a rival kingdom. As the bard shares his fantastical stories, Dervan makes a shocking discovery: He may have a connection to the tales, one that will bring his own secrets to light.

Abhi’s family have always been hunters, but Abhi wants to choose a different life for himself. Embarking on a journey of self-discovery, Abhi soon learns that his destiny is far greater than he imagined: a powerful new magic thrust upon him may hold the key to defeating the giants once and for all—if it doesn’t destroy him first.

Set in a magical world of terror and wonder, this novel is a deeply felt epic of courage and war, in which the fates of these characters intertwine—and where ordinary people become heroes, and their lives become legend.

Additional Book(s):