Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Binding Thorns and Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Flight don’t, on the surface, have much in common. One is a gothic, atmospheric novel of treachery and politics set in a decaying Paris, deeply interested in the politics of family and community and colonialism; while the other is a second-world urban fantasy novel starring a beat cop whose fun, light voice conceals some deeper thematic concerns with class and privilege, growing up and belonging.
What they do have in common is (a) dragons and (b) themes about family.
(To be honest, Michelle Sagara’s dragons are flashier. Aliette de Bodard’s dragons do not, as far as I can tell, engage in aerial battles.)
Cast in Flight is the latest instalment in Sagara’s long-running and extremely fun Chronicles of Elantra, in which Private Kaylin Neya of the Hawks (the beat cops of Elantra), along her increasingly numerous posse of friends and allies, continues to save the world (or at least the city of Elantra) from magical threats. Kaylin has a little bit of a saviour complex: she wants to rescue everyone, or at least everyone she possibly can. This has catapulted her into a lot of trouble in the past: in Cast in Flight, her decision to offer guest-space in her home to an Aerian colleague who was injured in a battle to defend the city shoves her head-first into Aerian politics and assassination attempts.
Aerians are winged humanoids capable of flight. They, along with humans, the lion-like Leontines, and the mind-reading Thala’ani, are Elantra’s mortal inhabitants. The city has immortal inhabitants also, in the form of the Barrani, and the Dragons. (The Eternal Emperor is a Dragon.) Kaylin has idolised Aerians since first meeting one. Discovering that they really are just people like everyone else, good bad and indifferent, is a little bit of a challenge to her sensibilities. But she doesn’t let anything stand between her and helping her friends…
Cast in Flight is a fun, fast, entertaining ride full of snark and banter and excellent characters. Bellusdeo and Teela, two of my favourites, have page time here, and the reader learns more about Aerians and their society, which we’ve only encountered in passing before. I always enjoy Sagara’s Elantra novels, and this one is no different.
I’ve been lavishing praise upon Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Binding Thorns, sequel to The House of Shattered Wings, since I read it. It’s an absolutely gorgeous book. Central to it is the dragon kingdom beneath the polluted Seine, and how it fits into a Paris dominated by the ruthless, cutthroat Houses and their Fallen magic. Central to it, to, are themes of family and community: the ties you choose, the ties you refuse, and ones you can’t escape. It’s a much darker book than Cast in Flight, with a much grimier and decaying atmosphere (and more torture and betrayal), but it is utterly fabulous.
(Yes, I’m a fangirl. There are very few books that reduce me to the state where all I can really analyse about them for the first few months after I’ve read them is how much I love them. The House of Binding Thorns has added itself to that relatively short list.)
My mountain of things to be read grows ever taller, including Claire North’s The End of the Day, Theodora Goss’s The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth, Cat Spark’s Lotus Blue, Michelle Sagara’s Grave, and a solid stack of things that leap less immediately to mind when I’m not sat right beside them. What are you guys reading and looking forward to lately?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.