Book Review: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The House of Shattered WingsThe House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Roc (8/18/15)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

It all begins with a fallen angel. The War in Heaven has come to Paris – or what’s left of it. The proud city is a ruin now, the once beautiful Seine clogged with the ashes of the dead and destroyed. House Silverspires, which used to be one of the most powerful Fallen factions, has followed Paris’ downfall into decay and disarray. It is thought that the House’s founder Morningstar has abandoned them, or he may be dead; either way, the fate of Silverspires now rests in his protégé Selene’s hands. And Selene, while she’s no Morningstar, is trying to do her best to keep her House together and her people safe.

The situation grows more complicated when a new Fallen named Isabelle comes to Silverspires with a young man named Philippe. Isabelle, being one of their own, is embraced immediately, but Philippe – as an immortal but not a Fallen – remains an outsider until they can figure out what he is and where he came from. However, as Selene and her alchemist Madeleine struggle to unravel the enigma of Philippe and his strange mental link to Isabelle, a sudden string of uncanny deaths strikes those with ties to Silverspires, including a visiting dignitary of another Great House. To prevent another a war from tearing them all apart, friends and enemies must band together to uncover the secrets of their past and figure out how all of this is tied to the stranger in their midst.

The House of Shattered Wings is therefore a very different kind of murder mystery, one that involves the blending of a great number of elements. Using a broken and crumbling version of Paris as a backdrop lends the story a gothic vibe, in all its dark and portentous glory. Snippets of the story behind Lucifer’s fall can be glimpsed in the long history of House Silverspires and their infamous founder. Fallen themselves become the favorite prey of the urban gangs hiding amidst the hollowed out ruins, waiting patiently for their chance to harvest the magical flesh and bone to sell for lucrative sums on the black market. East also clashes with West when the mythologies of two very different cultures meet. Characters still dream longingly of a bygone era, clinging to ideals that they’ll never have again.

This book also has all the hallmarks of an “Aftermath” story. There’s a strong sense of being thrust into the middle of a situation, which I felt so keenly that at one point I actually stopped to wonder if I had unknowingly stepped into a spinoff or a continuation novel of an existing universe. These types of narratives are often tricky; after all, I have to be convinced that the “post-event” is in fact more interesting to read about than the event itself. For the most part, I think author Aliette de Bodard pulled it off. You won’t get a lot of background information here – at least, not laid out in a traditional or organized fashion. Instead, the world building and character details are integrated seamlessly into the plot, to be absorbed gradually as it progresses. It’s a very immersive way to experience a story.

On the other hand, throughout my reading of this novel there was a constant tugging, nagging sensation deep inside of me always demanding to know more. I wanted to know more about this bombed-out world, learn more about the author’s vision of this shattered version of Paris. I wanted to see the scope of the story expanded, because really, what we get to see here is merely a sliver. While the power struggle among the many Fallen Houses involves a great number of individuals, it’s still a relatively small piece of the puzzle. We know from the presence of Philippe that there’s a much bigger picture, and to her credit De Bodard does plenty to indicate this, though she left little room to explore further.

I also struggled to engage with the characters, the reason being most of them had pasts that sounded a lot more intriguing than their present circumstances. In many ways, Isabelle was a blank slate and Philippe’s own journey was part of the mystery, so I was all right with those two. With Selene and Madeleine, however, I felt like their histories overshadowed their current selves. Selene was apprentice to Morningstar himself, a relationship I would have really liked to know more about. And as for Madeleine, mentions of her past at House Hawthorne often made me feel out of my depth, like I was already supposed to know everything about her origins and her associations with the Fallen there. Ironically, she was probably the most interesting character, but I also felt disconnected to her most of all.

And yet, in spite of the areas which I thought could have been improved, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m not denying there were hurdles, but overall I thought it was very well put together story that presented an intriguing and sophisticated never-seen-before side to the “fallen angels” mythos. In a way, my desire to know more is a testament to how thoroughly this book drew me in. It might not have swept me off my feet, but it got me paying attention. I look forward to reading more of Aliette de Bodard’s work in the future.


20 Comments on “Book Review: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard”

  1. I was listening to a podcast/interview with Aliette de Bodard and she mentioned that this book initially started as shorter interconnected pieces (either short stories/novellas) so perhaps that’s where that feeling of an existing universe comes from. A great review. I definitely need to read this book in the near future.


  2. De Bodard’s short fiction hasn’t really engaged me, but I was looking forward to this one, just to see what her long fiction is like. I thought the Parisian setting might be refreshing.


    • Short fiction generally isn’t my thing, but in this case now I actually kind of want to check out De Bodard’s. It’s always interesting to see an author go from the short fiction format to the full length novel format, and I’m curious.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I only recently heard of this book, but I didn’t realize that it was largely a mystery. This sounds really good, but I hate feeling like I missed something. Sometimes flashbacks can be annoying, but I think this was a book that needed them. At least it’s a series, so maybe more will be learned next time.


  4. I tend struggle with these “aftermath” stories. I generally always start off reading the first few chapters fairly slow to get the hang of the book – new characters, places, political situations, etc. – but when it starts right at the end of some revolution or battle, and it I start getting all this background history info, it can slow me down to a crawl.


    • I’m like that too. I’m generally not the kind of reader who can just “go with the flow” when I know I’m missing something and am told “that’s just the way it is”. I am usually so against jumping on board a book mid series for the same reason 🙂 I just like TO KNOW!


  5. This book definitely sounds intriguing and I do love mysteries. However I also HATE feeling like I am missing something or like I am stepping into the middle of something. Like a lot. This type of narrative works for me sometimes but it has to be done really well or else I just get frustrated at feeling confused. I’ll add it to the middle of the TBR mountain, I suppose.


    • It’s definitely worth checking out – I love the unique look at fallen angels. The whole “being dropped into the middle of something” would be the biggest challenge though, if you’re anything like me – I don’t like the feeling of missing something either, so it sounds like we are similar in that sense 🙂


  6. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves and Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  7. I want and need this! It sounds beautiful, and I heard there are Vietnamese people in this book so I must support it all the more. I’m sorry to hear that multiple questions are left about the world, but I hope to see it more fully fleshed out in the future, In any case, the day this arrives at my doorstep it’s going straight to the top of my TBR pile, though I’ll keep your reservations in mind!


  8. Pingback: Book Review: The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard | The BiblioSanctum

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