Title: The House of Shattered Wings
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Publication Date: 20 August 2015
Length: Novel (402 pages)
Format I read: audiobook
In a ruined Paris, fallen angels live together in rival Houses – each vying for power in the crumbling, poisonous city that was brought down by their own war. The fighting has given way to politics but the threat to life is still very real. Angels are hunted for their magical essence, the house leaders scheme and plot in elaborately polite power-games, and the dark deeds of the past will not lie quietly in their graves.
House Silverspires stands tremulous. Its magic is ailing; the founder, Morningstar, has been missing for years; and now a murderous presence, seemingly darkness and malevolence incarnate, stalks them inside their own walls.
Of the many characters whose lives revolve around Silverspires, three become central to the struggle against the darkness: a human alchemist addicted to forbidden and deeply taboo drugs that are killing her, a newly fallen angel with immense power combined with innocent naivety, and the man from Annam whose powers and anger toward the angelic houses are alien to the fallen.
Whilst always enjoyable and readable this book never really gripped me in the way I wanted and expected. The story itself is intriguing and clever – a grand tale of murder, politics, and revenge. And yet for all that bigness it somehow felt small and a bit underdeveloped.
Another reviewer very aptly put it that this is an ‘aftermath story’. It tells us what happened after the fall, and after the war, and after the disappearance of a great leader. It’s a bold move for any writer to make and not one that I think was necessarily pulled off to best effect in this book.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a story that expands beyond its frames. A story that suggests that more happens after the last page is turned, that life was going on in the background of every line, just around the corner. But you do need the present moment of the story to hold my attention at least as much as the elements going on out of sight. It needs to fit inside hole that’s been cut out of the bigger picture and I can’t say that this always did. There was too much gap between the story we were told and the story outside it. Maybe there will be more to fill out the gaps in the future but for now it’s like a kid with clothes too big for them: there’s potential for them to grow into them over time but the excess fabric is going to trip them up.
On a positive note I thought that the character of Philippe – his experiences and interactions with the angelic houses during and after the war – did a phenomenal job of demonstrating how the structures of power – race, class, wealth, etc – are often unseen and continue to be upheld by those who benefit from them. Sometimes it’s easier to face a hard truth through fiction, and Isabel and Philippe’s argument about the necessity of the continued existence of angelic houses prompted some serious reflection.
Clever, beautiful, and big in scope this book is very much worth reading but offered me more story than it could give
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – 3.5 stars.