Of Charms, Grievances and Ghosts by Aliette de Bodard

The existence of the Dragons and Blades series, continued here with Of Charms, Grievances and Ghosts, fascinates me. For those who don’t know, it’s a spin-off of Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series, centered on the characters Asmodeus and Thuan, and subtly different in tone. I can’t really think of any author who’s done it and after enjoying the first book – Of Feasts, Murders and Dragons – and everything else De Bodard has done, I was very eager to get my hands on this one.

Sadly, this is not a review about fulfilled expectations.

Before I go on, I’d just want to note that this and the next three reviews will sort of form a linked musing about slumps, approaching books for review, and the rest of it.

In this case, I started reading Of Charms, Grievances and Ghosts in May with the intent of spotlighting it as part of the Wyrd & Wonder bonanza. It slipped through the cracks for whatever reason (or so it seemed at the time). I then returned in mid-July and found it unsatisfying, which led me to suspect an incipient reading slump. If I can’t enjoy De Bodard, I can’t enjoy books.

And indeed, I didn’t read much for three weeks or so. When I returned though, I was still struggling and had to face up to the facts. This book just wasn’t for me.

The reason why is easily spotted when looking at Goodreads blurbs for the series. Of Feasts is a mystery and I expected another mystery. Of Charms declares itself a romantic adventure. The blurb seems to indicate a mystery but it’s not the given genre.

I love mysteries. Romance and romance adjacent books are a great deal more complicated. Getting sufficient drama out of two people’s relationship to carry a book’s main plot generally means behaviour that I don’t enjoy reading about in that volume. It’s like a dipping sauce; great for flavouring other things, but I don’t want it by itself. Sure enough, Asmodeus spent most of the book refusing to talk honestly in favour of hitting an apex of brusque confrontation and self-righteousness. Nope nope nope.

It didn’t help either that after two books and a novella, there’s not a lot of novelty left to Thuan and Asmodeus for me. I used to question why romance authors usually only do one book per couple and now I know.

So there we go. Just straight up not a book for me. I wonder if I’d paid attention whether I’d have noticed that or not before asking for a review copy, but I’m not in the habit of looking at too many details before declaring an interest in one of my favourite authors’ books. Once I decide I’m interested in a book, I generally avoid knowing more. I like book surprises.

Just not here.

The rest of the things you need to know is that this reads like De Bodard. The prose is elegant and flowing, although more casual in tone than most of her other work. The world building is evocative and there is a marked discontentment with the world’s injustices.

I will still get hold of Aliette de Bodard’s next work unthinkingly and hope people who see my problems with the book as good things take a look. But sometimes when you don’t like a book by an author you like, it isn’t just a slump.

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