I wasn’t expecting great things from Aliette de Bodard’s “Children of Thorns, Children of Water“. I read one of her novellas for the Campbells last year, and it struck me as very technically pretty but a little empty. But I was pleasantly surprised by this story. It’s a sequel to The House of Shattered Wings, about which I have heard the sort of good things that make me suspect that it is excellent but not a book I will enjoy, but it stands alone very well.
In this story, Thuan and his compatriot Kim Cuc are spies disguised as houseless people, who are trying to win a place in Hawthorn House. They are teamed up with Leila, a true houseless person for their test, which turns out to be about baking something impressive in under an hour. I was totally here for this. In fact, I was so here for this that I was deeply, deeply disappointed when the test was interrupted by the inevitable plot-driving emergency, because I *cared* about those eclairs, damn it, and I wanted to know if they were going to get them done in time, and if they would taste good.
Also, now I want to make eclairs.
(Any time you want me to like a story, put baking in it. Works like a charm.)
However, once I got over my disappointment, I really enjoyed this story. I was a little confused by the magical system, but I liked the shape of it, and I liked the way the House worked. I especially liked the character of Sare. The ending was not at all unexpected – but that was fine, because sometimes the story has to arc in a particular way, and any other ending wouldn’t have fit.
This has actually made me want to go back and read de Bodard’s two novels in this series, so I think it’s pretty good. Of course, Andrew pointed out to me a few years ago that, without exception, any book I recommend to him as being really really good and something he absolutely must read is full of people baking things, so I can be almost certain that the eclairs strongly influenced my feelings about this story. But it’s currently fighting for first place on my list with “A Series of Steaks” (which, I now can’t help noting, is also about food… hmm…), with “Extracurricular Activities” trying to nudge it’s way into the winner’s circle.