From the author of the critically acclaimed Dominion of the Fallen trilogy comes a tale of dragons, and Fallen angels—and also kissing, sarcasm and stabbing.
Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.
But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he'd sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.
It'll take all of Asmodeus's skill with knives, and all of Thuan's diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship…
A sparkling standalone book set in a world of dark intrigue.
A Note on Chronology
Spinning off from the Dominion of the Fallen series, which features political intrigue in Gothic devastated Paris, this book stands alone, but chronologically follows The House of Sundering Flames. It's High Gothic meets C-drama in a Vietnamese inspired world—perfect for fans of Mo Xiang Tong Xiu's Heaven Official's Blessing, KJ Charles, and Roshani Chokshi's The Gilded Wolves.
I'm a huge fan of Aliette's, and here she tells a stand-alone tale in her Dominion of the Fallen universe – as only Aliette can! – Lavie Tidhar
"Delightful… Beautiful writing, weird and magical world, fascinating culture and politics, and compelling characters: what more do you need?"– KJ Charles, author of Slippery Creatures
"I absolutely loved this… Two charming protagonists (in very different ways), beautifully descriptive writing, a cunning plot, and a thoughtful discussion of the ways that rooted injustice in a system can be changed. Also, dragons. Lots of dragons."– Genevieve Cogman, author of The Invisible Library series
"Tet is a feast that's a bit like Christmas." Thuan realized his mistake as soon as he'd spoken. He'd meant to compare Lunar New Year to something familiar, something every Parisian would respect, but he'd underestimated how little his husband cared about social norms. Or religion: for all that he was a Fallen angel, Asmodeus had always been summarily uninterested in anything so inconsequential—and unattainable—as redemption.
Asmodeus—sitting on the four-poster bed in the quarters they'd been assigned in the imperial citadel of the dragon kingdom—raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think House Hawthorn celebrates Christmas?"
"Good food and the company of your loved ones?" Thuan was sitting in one of the carved mahogany chairs, the straight-backed and uncomfortable ones of his childhood. He hadn't missed these at all.
"The House's version of Christmas involved rather less love, and more bodies dangling in trees."
"And your version?"
An expansive shrug that Thuan knew all too well.
"You don't celebrate, do you."
Asmodeus's face was an eloquent statement in and of itself. He sat on the bed, looking distant and sarcastic, an act which Thuan knew masked profound worry. "I'm here with you. I've, ah, volunteered for more than my fill of celebration." An accent on the word that suggested something wholly unpleasant. He reached out, smoothing the lapels of his swallowtail jacket almost absent-mindedly. His grey-green gaze, behind his square horn-rimmed glasses, was matter-of-fact, unemotional, but that didn't mean a lot, as he was supremely adept at disguising his own emotions. "You should be happy." It sounded like nothing so much as a threat.
Trouble was, Thuan wasn't really sure he was.
Tet was a time for celebration: a changing of the lunar year, a chance to start anew without debts, to turn the course of fate. A time to go home to celebrate with family, and it had been an eternity since Thuan had gone home to the underwater kingdom of the Seine, an eternity since he'd seen Second Aunt—the Empress who ruled over the rông, the shape-shifting Annamite dragons such as Thuan. And what better way to go home than to bring one's own husband, to show him the imperial citadel bedecked with trees and garlands of algae and yellow flowers and share with him the delights of banquets?
The first problem was, unsurprisingly, that Asmodeus was on edge: he didn't like being away from home, in a place where he had no means of pressure on anyone. Home was House Hawthorn, which he and Thuan co-ruled: a maze of grandiose buildings, outhouses and gardens in the midst of a ruined and devastated Paris—a fortress both physical and magical that was meant to safeguard all their dependents, from Fallen angels to mortals and dragons, from magicians and alchemists to gardeners and bodyguards. Hawthorn had recently been devastated by an attack from another House, and Thuan and Asmodeus were currently struggling to rebuild it while keeping everyone secure.
The second, and most important problem was that Thuan's memories of the imperial citadel had been utterly accurate, and this time he didn't have the excuse of being trapped in it: he'd walked into it out of his own free will. The court was best described as a seething mass of hornets, and that was the understatement of the millennium. If Asmodeus was on edge, Thuan was much worse—he'd never felt so exposed, his foreigner husband only the lowest item on a long list of liabilities that started with his incapacity to know how his words would be misinterpreted and by which faction.
"I'm sure my aunt is happy," he said. She'd recently declared herself Empress rather than Princess, finally acknowledging what everyone had known for decades: that she was the ruling power of the dragon kingdom and not merely an accidental heir as her father's eldest living child.
"Good," Asmodeus said. He turned to the bedside table—where he'd managed to store an impressive array of enchanted knives—and picked up his book. "That makes at least one of us. Now if you'll excuse me, I was rather looking forward to how our rather anemic hero found the secret passage in the attic."
Obviously he was too observant to fail to notice Thuan's deflection.
Thuan sighed, and went looking for clothes. Their quarters were a wide, airy suite in one of the palaces of the citadel reserved for dignitaries: a single room with cracked tiled floors, and pillars leading up to wooden rafters carved with the serpentine shape of dragons and various prosperity signs. The air was charged with brine, the light heavy, causing everything to undulate slightly, as if they'd been back on land staring through a heatwave. Except, of course, that they were underwater, in that peculiar bubble of the kingdom where they could breathe normally, but where coral and algae grew in gardens, and where little crabs and salamanders scuttled between the cracks of the floor.
A lacquered screen separated the room in two parts, a bedroom with a massive four-poster bed on which Asmodeus was currently lounging with his book, and a reception with a table and two wooden high-backed benches, the table polished teak wood with straight legs, something straight out of the traditionalist fashion. They'd put their clothes in the reception room, in the four stacked chests of clothes, each marked with the name of a season—never mind that they hadn't brought enough with them to fill more than a fraction of the chests.
The citadel, like the rest of the dragon kingdom and the rest of Paris, had been hard-hit by the war, and everything might have looked grandiose and polished from a distance, but the rot was everywhere: under Thuan's feet, the floor was full of minute cracks; the table was scored with various gouges, and the wooden ceiling had been hastily glued back together, and was already showing signs of algae and mould.
They had a banquet at the bi-hour of the rooster, and he'd need to make sure he picked the right clothes: Asmodeus could probably get away with any of the swallowtail suits he'd brought, the black brocade jackets with ever-different patterns that the officials and courtiers would find exciting or dismiss as insufficiently adhering to the rules. The rest of their delegation could wear House Hawthorn uniform and play the role of retainers. Thuan, unfortunately, would have to remember where the married-off son of the third sister of the empress fitted into the palace hierarchy. Was he entitled to a red dress with yellow dragons; and what about the hairpins and the brooches?
The door opened. Thuan braced himself for an official, but there was no sound—except that, after a while, it swung back; and when he looked up, Asmodeus was gone.
His mind immediately ran to the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder, which just showed how on edge he was. This was all ridiculous. He got up in one fluid gesture, half-shifting into his dragon shape—a huge and serpentine water spirit with stubby legs, his antlers nudging the carvings of the ceiling. He pushed the door open with an enormous snout—just in time to see Asmodeus vanish around the corner of the courtyard just outside their room, taking a pillared corridor leading to another building complex.
Thuan stifled a curse, and flew after him, mentally rehearsing how he'd convince Asmodeus not to go wandering into strange places without at least warning him—he could already imagine the argument they'd have, Asmodeus insisting he didn't need to be coddled (which was totally true, but Thuan was also thinking of these unfortunate people who'd stand in his path, and the diplomatic incidents that could ensue).
Thuan slid into the corridor, between the red-lacquered pillars: it snaked between the other rooms, and finally opened onto another paved courtyard with a central statue of three emperors, their cracked stone features eaten by algae.
The courtyard was full of people: variegated officials in jade five-panel tunics with rank patches and winged hats, courtiers with the same tunics but without the hats, and people of the lowest ranks.
But he didn't need to look really far to find Asmodeus, because his husband was kneeling by the side of a corpse.