The House of Shattered Wings
By: Aliette de Bodard
Format/Source: eARC courtesy of the publishers via NetGalley
In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.
Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.
I first heard of Aliette de Bodard about a year or two ago I believe when one of her short stories, The Waiting Stars, was nominated for a Hugo and Locus Award. I was curious, checked it out, and greatly enjoyed it. Since then I kept a lookout for her other work–I know she had written a fantasy series previously–and was quite excited when I found out that this book was to be released this year. The premise sounded really interesting, not to mention look at that stunning book cover! I read an eARC of this novel courtesy of the publishers through NetGalley. This book will be available on 18 August 2015.
I admit, the first few chapters of the book was a bit hard to get through; it almost felt as though the reader was thrown into the fray and it took some adjusting to the world, the magic system, what is going on. The setting was really interesting though–late twentieth century but rather post-apocalyptic after events of a Great War between the Great Houses. Post-war Paris feels familiar with all the famous landmarks and buildings but otherwise feels eerie and different with the Great Houses and the darkness and roughness of its streets. The magicks that inhabit this novel were also interesting, fusing Eastern and Western mythologies and religions into something that felt wholly tangible, mysterious, epic, and just fascinating.
As I mentioned it did take a while for me to warm up to the book. All of the characters felt rather remote to me; granted, perhaps that was what I was supposed to feel about the characters as the Fallen were pretty outerworldly and disconnected from everything else, even though they did fall. But even the non-Fallen like Madeline and Philippe felt rather remote to me, I didn’t find myself entirely rooting for them. Nonetheless I was interested in them enough to keep reading, especially as the mystery of the curse and shadows haunting House Silverspires finally makes an appearance in the story. The mystery not only expanded on the history of the Great Houses, the characters involved, and the overall worldbuilding and magic systems that operated in this world, but it also added to the atmosphere of the story and the danger in which these characters were facing. Additionally, the characters were interesting enough in that they all have their own agendas and interests, resulting in conflict or the potential for conflict amongst themselves (Selene, the de facto head of House Silverspires, comes to mind here).
The conflict between the Houses was also very interesting and weaved into the mystery quite nicely. I wished there were more scenes about the politics going on between the Houses, as I was interested to read more about House Lazarus’ own goals and the chippy arrogance of House Hawthorne as well as what led to the demise of the lesser Houses (aside from House Draken? Though yeah, I’d like to read more about that too). I liked that the consequences of the Great War is still being felt in this story, and you get hints as to why things are the way they are and what caused the war to begin with, but I would’ve honestly read a whole book about how the War started in the first place, I was that intrigued.
Overall I really enjoyed reading The House of Shattered Wings. It was slow at first, but once the mystery is revealed and the conflict established, it was hard to put the book down; I ended up reading most of it in a day. The worldbuilding and magics involved are definitely a highlight, but the mystery was intriguing and the all-around ominous nature of the shadows lurking around House Silverspires really creepy. Readers of fantasy will definitely want to check this title out!