Mini-Review: THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS by Aliette de Bodard (Gollancz/Roc)

A superbly written, atmospheric mystery

A superb murder mystery, on an epic scale, set against the fall out — literally — of a war in heaven

Paris in the aftermath of the Great Magicians War. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black, thick with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.

House Silverspires, previously the leader of those power games, 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, an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a resentful young man wielding spells from the Far East. They may be Silverspires’ salvation; or the architects of its last, irreversible fall…

This is a fantastic novel. Superbly written, wonderfully atmospheric and brought to life on the page, House of Shattered Wings is a must-read novel of the year. It’s the first novel by multi-award winning/nominated Aliette de Bodard that I’ve read, and it’s quite excellent. The novel has been generating a fair bit of hype with its upcoming release, and I’m happy to say it’s entirely justified.

De Bodard’s writing is expertly crafted, flows wonderfully. The world-building is evocative and atmospheric, we really get a good feel for this darker, grimmer Paris and its denizens. Without doubt, it is the combination of de Bodard’s gift for lyrical prose and magnificent world-building that makes this book such a fantastic read. The characters are interesting and varied, good guides to this setting and story — their struggles and motivations keep them interesting, and their flaws and foibles raise them above a good many of de Bodard’s contemporaries’ protagonists.

It’s not strictly speaking a fast-paced novel, but the quality of de Bodard’s prose had me gripped and reading well into the night. It perhaps could have been a tad more streamlined or faster-paced, but I’m not sure how that could have been achieved without robbing the story of its impact. Most likely, this is just a factor of my own personal taste and reading preferences: it’s by no means plodding. It is, nevertheless, a novel in which every aspect melds together so well. I particularly liked the interpretation and use of mythology (the Fallen, War in Heaven, etc.), and how de Bodard has woven such a great story around it. The setting could make for a really interesting computer game and/or movie, too…

If you’ve never tried a novel (or short story) by this author, then I strongly urge you to get House of Shattered Wings: it offers something a little different; a superb blend of intrigue, mystery and magic and urban fantasy; it’s brilliantly written; and the story is gripping. I can’t wait for the sequel. Very highly recommended.

*

House of Shattered Wings is published in the UK by Gollancz on August 20th, and in North America by Roc Books on August 18th.

[Full disclosure: I’m kept this review very short because I do a little bit of freelance work for the author’s agent. I get absolutely no financial gain from the novel’s success or otherwise. I received a review copy from Gollancz.]

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