Author Takeover: War of the Houses by Aliette De Bodard

Our April Author Takeover features Aliette de Bodard talking about something the Potter fandom knows all about: warring Houses. Join Aliette as she discusses her own House wars and the continuation of the beautiful Dominion of the Fallen series. The first book in this series published by Gollancz, The House of Shattered Wings, won the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Aliette returns with The House of Binding Thorns, as Paris endures the aftermath of a devastating arcane war.

As the Houses seek a peace more devastating than war, those caught between new fears and old hatreds must find strength – or fall prey to a magic that seeks to bind all to its will.

 Follow her @aliettedb

The Entirely Indecent Fun of Warring Houses

There’s something I find particularly appealing about Houses of wizards and magicians: they’re a community, a shorthand for shared values, interests, and ways of doings things. One of the things I love about the Harry Potter books is seeing how different people embody each House in a different way: Harry’s and Hermione’s acts of courage are entirely different, and Luna Lovegood’s brand of eccentricity is quite unlike Ollivander’s.

And of course Houses are also a source of friction and competition: the early years are marked quite successfully by the Quidditch Cup and the House Cup, which fade more and more into the background as the characters mature and other concerns take precedence, and the rivalry between Houses gives way to the necessity of all working together against Voldemort.

When I wrote my book, The House of Binding Thorns, I used a similar House system, with colors, coats of arms (and even Latin mottos!), and a strong feeling of community and shared values, but I skipped the “working together” part.

The book is set in an alternate turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, where the Houses have become fortresses fighting over scarce resources – and the scarcest resource of all is magic, which is held by Fallen angels: they can choose to pass it on, or it can be taken from dead Fallen and stored in alchemical containers. In this kind of environment, it made more sense to me that the Houses would war and intrigue against each other.

I had a lot of fun with the Houses’ names, which are all references to the Houses’ locations in my alternate-sort-of-19th-century Paris: House Silverspires is on Ile de la Cité, which had the most churches in Paris and would have looked like a sea of spires from afar; House Harrier wanted to name itself after the Grenelle area in the southwest of Paris (which is Latin for “little crane”), but they thought a crane as a patron animal was insufficiently threatening and so replaced it with the bird of prey.

Like the Hogwarts ones, my Houses have very different philosophies – except that in my case, that sets them at one another’s throats. House Silverspires (founded by Lucifer Morningstar and ruling over Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame) believes in doing whatever it takes to keep its place at the top; House Hawthorn (a grand, decaying Parisian mansion with extensive, ash-covered gardens and fungus-encrusted fountains) fanatically watches over its own and obviously takes it badly when Silverspires goes around casually harming Hawthorn’s magicians; and so on and so forth.

I’m not going to lie though: if some big bad threat showed up, my Houses might possibly ally with one another out of self-interest – but they’d keep backstabbing one another all the way into the final battle!