Review: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
Published by Roc on August 18th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Epic
Source: Ace Roc Stars, Publisher
Multi-award winning author Aliette de Bodard, brings her story of the War in Heaven to Paris, igniting the City of Light in a fantasy of divine power and deep conspiracy… In the late Twentieth Century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins. The Great Magicians’ War left a trail of devastation in its wake. 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.
The House of Shattered wings is a fresh and intriguing book that has a fascinating take on fallen angels in 1930s Paris. Much like a mafia or gang style set up, their are rival houses of Fallen angels. The city is trying to recover from a magical war, it is suffering and scarred but recovering. It’s dark, broken and beautiful, much like the fallen angels themselves. I was quite taken by the prose and the world building in this as well as rich and complex characters. Actually, I loved the prose in this. Aliette de Bodard has a genuine gift of transforming mere words into pure imagery and emotion. She skillfully crafts the scenes and tone wrapping one around the other creating an experience for the reader. I’m just going to include a random quote because I don’t think words of mine will do her justice.
[su_quote]… a tangled mass that seemed to be all broken limbs and bleeding wounds; and over it all, a gentle sloshing radiance like sunlight seen through water, a light that promised the soft warmth of live coals, the comfort of wintertime meals heated on the stove, the sheer relief just after the breaking of a thunderstorm, when the air was cleansed of all heaviness. **[/su_quote]
The Fallen angels are lost and discarded. They have no memories of what they did to be shut out or why they “fell”, but they do remember the wonderful life they had before. That can really mess with their sense of faith and devotion to the religion and god they used to love. They are no longer in his/her graces, and there are certainly some feelings of abandonment going on.
While the Fallen are not as magically powerful as they were before, they still possess abilities beyond mere mortals. However, they can also be vulnerable, particularly when they are first Fallen. This is dangerous because there is a strong illegal drug market for “angel essence”. It is an interesting situation where the newly Fallen are burgeoning with power, but yet are more vulnerable and naive than their less recently fallen counterparts.
This potent drug, made from angel blood/bones, gives its user a diluted power derived from the angels body or blood. And while it is diluted by angel power strengths, it still gives the user a considerable step up from their mundane mortal abilities. We get the perspective of one essence addicted character, and I loved understanding how she came to that point, why she felt the horrible cost to her body was justified for the benefits provided by the drug.
The Houses have been greatly effected by the war and power plays and struggles are definitely a part of life for them. In addition to the angels, there are also street gangs of humans who acquire and deal angel essence. It just adds to the dark and broken atmosphere of the city.
Another thing I enjoyed is that it deals not just with the Fallen angels. One of the characters is from a distant land in the Far East and seems to possess his own, mysterious type of magical abilities. I found this character quite intriguing, as you get details about him bit by bit, unraveling the mystery of who he is (and why he has magical ability) as the rest of the story unfolds.
This was a wonderfully crafted story, with palpable atmosphere and complex characters that are all flawed and fascinating. I left this book wanting to continue to learn about the city, the houses and each of the characters. I can’t imagine you could ask for more from a book than all that.
** The quote contained within this review is from and Advance Reader Copy and may differ from the finished version of the book.