Book Review: The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls was a great wonder; a perfect meld between cutting edge technology and esoteric sciences-its inhabitants capable of teleporting themselves anywhere, its weapons small and undetectable and deadly.
Thirty years ago, threatened by an invading fleet from the Dai Viet Empire, the Citadel disappeared and was never seen again.
But now the Dai Viet Empire itself is under siege, on the verge of a war against an enemy that turns their own mindships against them; and the Empress, who once gave the order to raze the Citadel, is in desperate needs of its weapons. Meanwhile, on a small isolated space station, an engineer obsessed with the past works on a machine that will send her thirty years back, to the height of the Citadel’s power.
But the Citadel’s disappearance still extends chains of grief and regrets all the way into the fraught atmosphere of the Imperial Court; and this casual summoning of the past might have world-shattering consequences…

I’ve only read a couple of stories set in the Xuya universe, but I know that there’s always one more to pick up when I’m in the mood and it’ll be a good time. And this one just so happened to be the right one for me when I was feeling too disinterested with reading.

I’m not sure how to categorize this story. This is a space opera, with time travel elements, with two empires on the brink of war – and we do get to see all the tension in the mind of the Empress as well as her advisors just when they are on the cusp of making decisions that will decide their future – but ultimately this is a story about grief and loneliness and mothers and daughters.

In the story of the Empress and her eldest daughter Bright Princess, the story of her younger daughter Thousand Heart with her mind ship daughter The Turtle’s Golden Claw, the story of the engineer Diem Huong and her long lost mother – we see how the realities of belonging to the empire have affected their relationships; how a mother grieves the loss of her child but cannot completely regret her decision because she did what she thought was best for the empire; how a daughter resents her mother for forcing her will upon her, and thereby feeling the same resentment towards her own unwanted daughter; how a sister is mired in her loneliness and grief due to the strife between her mother and elder sister; how a helpless daughter has waited for decades just to find a way back to her mother in the past – all their tales converge to give us a story full of reflections and introspection, with a touch of sadness. And the author manages to capture all this feeling very delicately, through her exquisite writing.

Aliette de Bodard is definitely one of my favorite authors, especially for creating worlds that feel so vibrant and for characters who are fully fleshed and deep, regardless of their page time. I have also really come to enjoy the brilliance of her craft in creating stories in the short format so effectively, and I can’t wait to delve more into this universe.

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