YA Weekend Audio: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of The Gilded Wolves
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (January 15, 2019)
Length:11 hrs and 55 mins
Author Information: Website | Twitter
I loved Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes, so I dove into The Gilded Wolves with all the excitement you can imagine. However, for some reason I did not feel for this novel the same way I did towards her mythological-inspired duology. While it was not a bad read overall and I still enjoyed this book to an extent, I think my disappointment is the result of having higher expectations and the fact this story felt very derivative and not as well put together as the previous books I’ve read by the author.
To begin, this is a historical fantasy set in an alternate version of Paris, France in 1889. It is also a heist story. And like all heist stories, you must have a ringleader to gather the group and execute an elaborate plan to steal an extremely valuable, all-important McGuffin. In this case, the role is filled by Séverin Montagnet-Alarie, a prominent city hotelier who is also an avid treasure hunter on the side. Robbed of his true inheritance as a child, Séverin finds it impossible to turn away an opportunity to gain it all back when a powerful secret society known as the Order of Babel seeks him out to find a magical ancient artifact called the Eye of Horus.
But first, he’ll need a crew. Enter Laila, a charming Indian dancer with a magical ability to read objects. She also loves to bake and plays the part of den mother the group. Then there’s Zofia, a young Jewish Polish girl on the autism spectrum who has magical powers of the mind. She is also a mathematician extraordinaire and the brains of the operation. Next is Enrique, a bookish Spanish-Filipino whose expertise in history gives the crew the edge they need. And Tristan is the little brother of Séverin’s heart if not of his blood, a cheerful boy who loves all things to do with plants and animals (he also dotes on his pet tarantula Goliath, much to the consternation of the group). And finally, there’s Hypnos, the queer biracial heir of a French aristocratic house who is also the outsider/liaison between Séverin and the Order of Babel. The two of them have a history, which results in some interesting dynamics as this adventurous little caper plays out.
In the end though, I think my dissatisfaction with The Gilded Wolves stems from its mediocrity. I mean, I didn’t think it was terrible, but then it wasn’t great either. All the components were there and by and large well-written and decent enough, yet none quite crossed the threshold into spectacular or even noteworthy territory. First, the story: I’m afraid a lot of the criticisms likening this book to a watered-down Six of Crows may have some merit. The similarities were hard to ignore once the notion had wormed itself into my mind, which wouldn’t really have been an issue (after all, most heist stories re-use and recycle a lot of the same ideas to some extent) except for the fact I thought Leigh Bardugo did everything much better. Chokshi also wasn’t able to keep up the interest or momentum quite as well, and as a result, pacing in the beginning and middle suffered.
Then there were the characters, whom I desperately wanted to like, but instead they felt like a parade of diversity labels but not much in the way of substance, which was a shame. Their individual quirks (like Laila’s baking, Tristan’s obsession with his pet tarantula, Zofia’s social naivete, etc.) felt forced or like they were included for the sake of humor, coming across to me as flimsy attempts to make them a bit more likeable and genuine. I also didn’t feel many of the relationships between the members of the crew developed all that organically, leading to some awkward juvenile dialogue. The exceptions to this were Séverin and Hypnos, whose linked backstories made them my two favorite characters, as well as Séverin and Tristan (again, because they have a shared history together), though the exceptionally well-developed nature of their brotherly bond made certain consequences of the ending predictable. Overall, I think Chokshi might still be working out the challenges of writing an ensemble cast, which includes balancing the attention given to each character.
And finally, with regards to the setting, I probably wouldn’t have been able to peg this as 1889 Paris if the narrative hadn’t explicitly provided the dates and names of places and landmarks. The world-building in this book was definitely weaker compared to the author’s The Star-Touched Queen duology, perhaps because she was writing about a milieu she wasn’t as familiar with. Historical settings can be tricky to pull off, because capturing the authentic feel of a place is much more than simply regurgitating details from the historical record, and while the descriptions of the environment were done well, I missed not having a strong sense of place or the lush atmosphere I know the author is capable of.
All in all, I can’t say The Gilded Wolves really lived up to the hype for me, but it’s probably because I was expecting a lot more, being a huge fan of Roshani Chokshi’s other books. Still, I have no doubt this novel will find tons of love among YA fantasy readers, and it could be worth checking out if you enjoy historical fantasies and heist stories.
Audiobook Comments: I’m really glad I opted to review the audiobook version of The Gilded Wolves, because I think the format might have helped me through some of the slower parts in the beginning and middle of the book (but even then I had to play back a few times due to a couple false starts). I also liked that there were two narrators, though one or two more voices to reflect the large cast wouldn’t have hurt either. Laurie Catherine Winkel and P.J. Ochlan delivered good performances, but occasionally both would go a little overboard with their accents, becoming difficult to understand. Overall, a decent listen.
To be honest, I am not even sure if I like heist stories
I love heist stories! But at this point I would like them to be more memorable 🙂
Sometimes NOT getting approved for a review book is a blessing in disguise! I was so disappointed when the publisher turned me down for this book, but a lot of the reviews I’ve read are similar to yours, so I’m ok with it😁
Yeah, it’s a middle of the road fantasy YA. Now you can make room for better books 😀
Ah, great review. I’m sorry this one didn’t work out for you. I still have high hopes that I’ll love it, but we’ll see, I should be getting to it this week. I do love Six of Crows and hearing that Bardugo did it better, well that doesn’t bode well, but we’ll see, lol. 😀
I enjoyed Six of Crows too. I felt Bardugo’s world was better developed for sure, and her characters and relationships were deeper!
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The setting for this story would have been a major attraction to me – if not THE major attraction – but the fact that there is no feel of the real place, but rather what sounds like a cardboard background, like that of a cheap stage play, has cooled my enthusiasm considerably…
Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Yeah I found the lack of world-building to be one of the biggest disappointments. If the setting was your biggest attraction, I would probably pass on this 🙂
Excellent review! I’d actually been contemplating myself whether I should read this book, but one of my friends (like you) said this book was just ticking off a diversity checklist, so I think I won’t be reading this one. I mean, I already have Six of Crows to enjoy, so no need for a watered down version. 😉
Oh it was very much just ticking off a diversity checklist, I like the way your friend put it. Very accurate. Sometimes having token diversity is just as bad as having none at all, imo.
You summed up my thoughts about The Gilded Wolves pretty well. I finished it last night and didn’t think it was nearly as strong as The Star-Touched Queen. I struggled to connect with the characters (my favorite was actually Tristan, and I was disappointed he didn’t have any POV chapters – and then I discovered the big possible reason why), and I thought there was too great a focus on exposition / description and not enough on plot or character development. Plus, this was the 4th or 5th book I’ve read in either historical fantasy or historical fiction that takes place in France’s Belle Epoque era, and I haven’t really cared for any of them. So I wonder if the setting doesn’t appeal to me and is one I should avoid reading about in the future…
Glad I’m not the only one who felt this way! Yeah, I loved The Star Touched Queen for the world-building, and compared to that, this one felt…lacking. And yes, the lack of a Tristan POV was another thing that really telegraphed the ending big time! And interesting observation about the Bell Epoche era, I can’t think of another book I read recently set in this period, but you’ve got me thinking of which authors might do it better.
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Sorry it didn’t work better for you! I ended up liking this one pretty well (though I can concede to some of the shallowness of the world-building), but I have yet to read Six of Crows. Curious how it will hold up after I get through that one!
I’m glad you enjoyed it! I might just be picky about my fantasy YA/heist stories 🙂
Ah sorry to hear that yer experience wasn’t stellar but this lovely review made me even happier that I abandoned ship Not me thing at all. Hope yer next read be wonderful. Arrr!
x The Captain
Ah, I thought I remembered that you DNF’ed it. Yeah, I can understand why you did!
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I’m with Tammy. I was declined for this. I was still thinking of buying a copy if the reviews were overwhelming but so far this isn’t the case. And. What really appealed to me was the Paris setting so the fact that the setting didn’t feel strong for you is a big negative for me. A shame but my tbr is already pretty bloated so it’s not really a problem. Lynn 😄
Yeah, the lack of worldbuilding was a serious disappointment. If the Paris setting is the biggest draw for you, might be a good idea to pass. More time to try other books 😀
Maybe I’ll stick with Star Touched Queen for this author
I thought that book was much better.
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