My Favorite Bit: Aliette de Bodard talks about THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS

Favorite Bit iconAliette de Bodard is joining us today with her novel The House of Binding Thorns. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The multi-award-winning author of The House of Shattered Wings continues her Dominion of the Fallen saga as Paris endures the aftermath of a devastating arcane war….

As the city rebuilds from the onslaught of sorcery that nearly destroyed it, the great Houses of Paris, ruled by Fallen angels, still contest one another for control over the capital.

House Silverspires was once the most powerful, but just as it sought to rise again, an ancient evil brought it low. Phillippe, an immortal who escaped the carnage, has a singular goal—to resurrect someone he lost. But the cost of such magic might be more than he can bear.

In House Hawthorn, Madeleine the alchemist has had her addiction to angel essence savagely broken. Struggling to live on, she is forced on a perilous diplomatic mission to the underwater dragon kingdom—and finds herself in the midst of intrigues that have already caused one previous emissary to mysteriously disappear….

As the Houses seek a peace more devastating than war, those caught between new fears and old hatreds must find strength—or fall prey to a magic that seeks to bind all to its will.

What’s Aliette’s favorite bit?

House of Binding Thorns cover image

ALIETTE DE BODARD

My favourite bit of writing The House of Binding Thorns was re-imagining the geography of my alternate Paris.

The Dominion of the Fallen series, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns, is set in an alternate 20th Century where a huge magical war between factions devastated Paris and much of Europe–and where the survivors are still fighting a Cold War of attrition in the ruins, with political intrigue and covert use of magic.

I wanted to take familiar tourist (or local) sights and give them an eerie twist. The dome of the great department store Les Galeries Lafayette is now broken, and gang-members scavenge in the ruined counters; the Seine is black with magical pollution and pulls people from bridges and quays; the grand mansions of the powerful, the hôtels particuliers, have floral wallpaper flecked with mould and gravel flecked with dirt in their gardens, …

I based the geography of my post-magical-war Paris in the turn-of-the-century Parisian one: a very important (but excessively geeky one) was whether I took into account Baron Haussman’s extensive modifications to the geography of the city: I decided to do so, partly because this would result in a map that wasn’t too unfamiliar to the reader (and I was already juggling a lot of unfamiliarity!).

It’s pretty easy today to find amazingly detailed maps of Paris from this time period (I used this one ).

I’ve lived in Paris for decades, so it was a bit of a weird experience imagining what a magical war would have done to the streets. I would walk in front of a particularly distinctive building, and think, “Ah-ha, I could use this, how would it have changed?”. This occurred a lot when writing The House of Binding Thorns: the titular House, Hawthorn, had a decayed hôtel particulier vibe, and as it happened I would run a lot of errands in the vicinity of these.

One problem I hadn’t anticipated was making sure I was not committing huge anachronisms: because I know Paris very well, I would write a bridge or a street and not always check that they did exist back then. The most embarrassing mistake I made was having two characters cross the Bir-Hakeim Bridge, in the south west of Paris: I was very slow to realise it had been named for a famous WWII battle that hadn’t happened in my alternate chronology!

I also had a lot of fun with the different magical factions: all the Houses have names that are pertinent to their location. House Astragale is in the suburb of Saint-Ouen, which once was the headquarters for the military order of the Star: I picked “astragale” because it was close to “astral” but is actually the name of a bone (it *is* creepy Paris, after all!). House Silverspires is on Ile de la Cité, which had the most churches in Paris in the mid-19th Century and would therefore have looked like a sea of white spires from afar.

Lest this make me look very serious, I’ll also admit to terrible bilingual word play: House Hawthorn, the aforementioned decadent hotel particulier, is a fast-and-loose transcription of “Auteuil”, the wealthy southwestern suburb of Paris where it’s based. It’s also a tree with beautiful flowers, prickly thorns and a very invasive tendency, which happens to describe the House to a tee!

I’ll leave you with a passage that describes the inside of House Hawthorn:

The House was silent: it was still dark and freezing cold outside, with another hour or so to go to dawn, when the kitchen and laundry rooms would come alive, and the drudges would take their mops and brooms into the corridors, and light, one by one, the big chandeliers with candles on poles, to signal the beginning of the day.

Thuan had wandered it, at night, when only the bakers in the kitchens were up, kneading dough for the massive stone ovens: the main, cavernous edifice; the small, winding streets spreading out from beyond the gardens, their buildings cracked limestone confections with rusted wrought-iron balconies, and dependents in embroidered dresses and top hats leaning, languidly, against the pillars of blackened porches and patios. The broken ruins in the corners of the gardens: the abandoned buildings, with the trails of water running down glass panes like tears; the melted, pitted limestone overgrown with ivy and other creepers; the black debris mixed in with the gravel; and the broken-off hands on the statues in the fountains. All the traces of the war, in a House that hadn’t been spared by it.

(…)

He wandered corridor after corridor, losing himself in the labyrinth of the West Wing, running a hand on the wainscot of cracked wooden panels, his fingers brushing the engraved figures of game animals and trees. There was something addictive, alluring about standing outside the bedrooms of the House’s elite, the leaders of each court, and their being none the wiser as to the danger he represented.

He stopped at a crossroads between two corridors, to look at a striking piece, a stag whose antlers blurred and merged into the thorns of a tree. Dogs were harrying it, yet the beast held itself tall and proud, as if it didn’t even deign to notice them. The detail had chipped away, and there was dust around the design, a thickening layer like a gray outline.

On the right, the corridor curved sharply, flaring into something very much like an antechamber, at the end of which was a huge set of wooden doors. They were strangely plain: painted with a scattering of faded silver stars against a dark gray background. Two of those stars were falling from the firmament; their silver tinged with the scarlet of blood, a shade that never quite seemed to hold as the viewer moved.

It smelled, faintly, of bergamot and citrus, and Thuan had no business being there.

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BIO:

Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is the author of The House of Shattered Wings, a novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which won the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz). She lives in Paris.

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