Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

I’ve read quite a lot of books set in Paris recently, yet the imagined version in this book is unlike any Paris you’ve ever read about before. Set in the aftermath of the Great Magicians War, Paris is practically a ruin, where the grand magical houses hoard their magic and power from other rival houses and those on the streets survive in gangs. 

There are three main character stories interwoven in this complex tale. There is a newly fallen angel who starts off naïve but has an untold power, a human alchemist with a dangerous addiction and a past that is fast catching up with her, and a young man from the Far East wielding a mysterious power of his own. 

The three characters become linked by one of the Houses, Silverspires, and when an unknown entity begins a terrifying killing spree that threatens the survival of Silverspires and all of its inhabitants; the characters all face their own personal challenges, and the head of the house must make some difficult choices to ensure the safety of her people and keep the house from falling to her rivals. 

This supernatural fantasy is pretty intense and complex, and my little description above only scratches the surface of actual events. At first, it took me a while to get stuck in; there are lots of characters and a rich magical history that you really need to pay attention to, but once you get the gist, the story kind of flows and keeps you reading.

I’ve never been to Paris (yet) but this imagining paints stunning imagery of gothic cathedrals and grandiose buildings that bear the scars of war, and the murky waters of the Seine where a dragon kingdom staves off ruin. 

The prose itself is written as elegantly and as grandly as the old-world styled location and its “angelic” characters, which had a great impact on the overall storytelling. However I think my favourite element was the stranger from the Far East, who brings his own intriguing history and mythology into the story, injecting some colour otherwise dark and deceptive events.  

I’ve mentioned magic a lot and touched on mythology, but this book is also part murder mystery, with dashes of drama, religious exploration and supernatural suspense. With so many layers to the story, there are almost endless possibilities in terms of storylines and as there are some questions left unanswered, I really hope there is a sequel set in this wondrous world the author has so skilfully created. 

A decadent and amazingly creative read, The House of Shattered Wings is not for the faint hearted but is a literary feat of imagination that will astound readers of this kind of cross-genre novel.

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