2022’s Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances is the second entry in Aliette de Bodard’s Dragons and Blades series.
Visiting his shape-shifting relatives in their kingdom under the Seine, Prince Thuan ventures to babysit, on the entirely correct assumption that his bloodthirsty husband Asmodeus is poorly suited for the task.
A family outing to a nearby ruined shrine takes an unexpected turn when a ghost appears.
They discover some small bones, which reveal that the hungry ghost has been a ghost for quite some time. The girl whose shade it is starved to death many years ago, huddling in a shrine she may have hoped would offer her protection. Now, her hungry ghost feeds on the life-force of the living.
However, the ghost’s remains are not alone. There is another corpse in the shrine; this one is only two days old. This body is that of a victim — someone stabbed to death.
The visitors would like to interrogate the ghost but this ghost is mute. Traumatized? Asmodeus and Thuan decide to bring the ghost along with them; perhaps later she will be able to share what she knows.
Ghosts generally cannot survive long far from the site that they haunt. Asmodeus lets her leave by setting up a link between the ghost and his life-force. This bold action confirms that the scary fellow does have a soft spot for children, even dead ones. It is an act of charity that will have consequences.
The victim is not the first person to die in the Anemone Immortal’s ruined shrine. Over the last century, five people have been murdered in the shrine. Why them and why there? That’s a mystery for Asmodeus and Thuan to solve.
If only their witness could speak … Well, someone is worried that she will. Occult attacks ensue. The ghost herself is kidnapped. This reveals one horrific consequence of Asmodeus’s link with the girl: if her kidnapper can exorcize the ghost, the fallen angel will die as well.
Apparently, there’s a preceding story in this series I somehow missed or somehow forgot. Ah, well. More reading. On the plus side, I can attest that one does not have to have read the earlier work to understand or appreciate this one.
This is functionally a murder mystery, albeit one firmly within the fantasy genre. I would worry that de Bodard could someday decide to decamp SFF for the larger and potentially more lucrative field of contemporary mystery were it not for the fact quite a few of de Bodard’s books have been fantasy mysteries and we’ve not lost her yet.
Points to the author for a plot twist that turns a century-long murder spree into something even worse than your garden variety shrine-desecrating serial murder. You will be surprised and delighted! Well, more surprised and revolted at the miscreant. Potato, potato.
Despite his marshmallow centre where kids are concerned, Asmodeus is a bit more homicidal than I prefer in my co-protagonists. (Though this is perhaps to be expected from fallen angels.) This demur aside, I enjoyed the novella. De Bodard’s skills are shown off nicely at this length. Some authors, used to vast expanses of prose, would struggle to fit everything necessary into a work this short. As well, her prose is delightful, as it ever is.