Book Review: The House of Shattered Wings
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
House Silverspires, previously the leader of those power games, 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, a alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a resentful young man wielding spells from the Far East. They may be Silverspires’ salvation. They may be the architects of its last, irreversible fall…
Paris has survived the Great Houses War – just. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens continue to live, love, fight and survive in their war-torn city, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over the once grand capital.
Ever since reading Blood and Feathers from Lou Morgan, my taste for an Angels and Demon story was reignited. And along the years I have read some very good stories. Most of these stories do have something in common though, partly that gritty and dark setting with guns, lots of them. When I first was notified about The House of Shattered Wings last year I knew that it was definitely a book to keep a close eye on. And I am glad I did. Aliette de Bodard, who is perhaps better know for her short fiction and the Aztec series: Obsidian and Blood, has produced a tour de force with The House of Shattered Wings. Starting from the idea of a Parisian inspired urban-gothic setting right down to the execution.
The story of The House of Shattered Wings picks up with a nice gentle pacing, placing the reader right into the story where we see a young angel Isabelle being sent down from Heaven. Thereby turned into a Fallen. The Fallen have a long history in Paris, in the post apocalyptic world that Aliette de Bodard inspires, these Fallen rule. The Fallen have congregated over the years into various Houses and with such things do come problems as the Houses went to war over time. Now back to the story. It is in the aftermath of it all that we find Isabelle I mentioned above. One House, House Silverspires which is ruled by Selene, who kind of was forced to take over after it's original creator Morningstar disappeared, is surviving on the brink of it all. During the fall of Isabelle, there is Philippe and both of them are captured/taken by House Silverpsires. Selene knows just what Isabelle is as, a Fallen, but Philippe is something different, he is an immortal but doesn't come close to the classification of a Fallen. Not knowing what to do with him, they keep him captured and in the meantime Selene, aided by her alchemist Madeleine are trying to discover just what Philippe is. With both Isabelle and Philippe in House Silverspires, troubles seems to be brewing and soon there are a lot of unexplainable things happening, not items getting lost but murders taking place to people who are linked to Silverspires. Not limiting to it's inhabitants but also outsiders, and one such murder of a different House could bring another war all together, something that Selene isn't very keen on to see it happen. Time is short to solve just what is going on, can the Selene, aided by her alchemist Madeleine find just what is going on? And what exactly is Philippe anyway, if he is immortal, but not a Fallen. In this mystery story more and more questions are raised with each question being answered.
The part that captured me the most in Aliette de Bodard's story was the world she has build and still is building in my imagination. Having visited Paris more than a few times I know how beautiful the architecture is, seeing how Alliette uses these surroundings in her story and how she explains and talks about them. It is all just really vivid and you will soon find yourself spellbound in the Parisian world of The House of Shattered Wings. I still stick to my earlier all encompassing explanation of the world. Mesmerizing, utterly mesmerizing. Of course what makes the world building so great is the writing style of Aliette de Bodard, from the first page you know that it holds something magical, and this continues right down to the last word of the story. It is really something.
If you look at the four main perspectives of the book: Selene the head of House Silverspires, Isabelle the recent Fallen, Madeleine the alchemist of House Silverspires and Philippe, the unexplainable factor in the story. Each of these characters is different but all have something working for them. The House of Shattered Wings is a short story but this didn't take away that Aliette de Bodard made a sacrifice for it's character, more on the contrary. Each of these characters get a fair share amount of time for backstory telling and advancing them further in the book. For starters there is Selene, she is a very tough and resolute character, who was more or less forced to take on the roll as leader after Morningstar just disappeared one day as the head of Silverspires. In many ways you see that Selene isn't that comfortable with many things and with the leader she has become, there are still tough decisions to be made. Madeleine the Silverspires alchemist is heavily addicted to angel essence, Madeleine is in the phase that she can only function when she is on the angel high so when Selene and Madeleine have to cooperate in finding just what is wrong, you can imagine that there might be an hassle now and then. Isabelle the recentely Fallen, couldn't have been better at home in Silverspires. She holds a lot of power and could be a new direction in terms of leaders for Silverspires, but with being new she has to learn a lot, the naivety that she currently holds could also mean her own downfall in it all. In Philippe's character you will see that he stands out the most. Him not being linked to the Fallen but having tremendous powers. Philippe and Isabelle are strangely linked to each other, why and how is kept a secret. What I especially liked about the relation that Isabelle and Philippe had was that there wasn't any romancing involved, I am not that big a fan of such themes so in this backdrop it was kept focused to the story. As you can see the diversity of the characters is big and every one has their own weaknesses and strenghts, which Aliette de Bodard isn't afraid to show.
I was more than pleased with the results of The House of Shattered Wings. You can definitely see what a great author Aliette de Bodard is. Singularly the theme of the book, the world building, characters, and unique twist on the story were all most interesting but when you take all them together, it truly becomes a great reading experience. The darkly-gothic vividly envisioned Paris with a heaven/hell theme really comes to life with the excellent story telling of Aliette de Bodard. All that is left to say is that The House of Shattered Wings is mesmerizing. I can guarantee you that The House of Shattered Wings will stick to you for a very long time. If you are on the lookout for something fresh and exciting in Dark Urban Fantasy, this is the book for you.