Title: The House of Shattered Wings
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Diversity: Vietnamese MC and influences, queer rep, POC, addiction
In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. Those that survived the carnage 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. Within its walls, 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.
I rarely give out five stars. Maybe once, in the past couple of years, I’ve given five stars. You have to meet a lot of different criteria for me to give five stars and, damn, de Bodard did that.
HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS is a delightful blending of fallen angels, House politics, and Vietnamese immortals and magic. If you want a breath of fresh air in your urban fantasy, this is the book for you.
Let’s dive right in.
The entirety of the book takes place in alternate-past Paris, run by Fallen angels through different Houses. The Fallen are the only remaining sources of magic (as far as they know) and their tenuous peace is all but shattered as a darkness rises within the most powerful house, Silverspires.
While this beautiful, dystopian version of Paris is brought to life through rich description and interaction with various places in the city, readers will be transported to Annam through flashbacks. Philippe, our main character, is a Vietnamese immortal and the longing he has for his old home and the life that was taken from him will make you feel like you’re really there.
And you HAVE to read the book just to find out what’s under the Seine.
You just have to. I’m not telling. Go read it. Hint: It’s awesome.
I love a good cast, and we have a great one here. I’m always looking for what I call “Star Wars casts,” which are multiple people I can come to care about who are thrown together and all have different ideas about the world, agendas, and ways of getting what they want. How they clash and/or work together is what makes the story feel real.
Our three heroes and the major side players all have this quality. There aren’t just the two sides–those trying to save Silverspires and those seeking it’s downfall. The motivations are nuanced and varied. Take a look at the three main players: Philippe, Madeleine, and Isabel.
Philippe – a Vietnamese immortal eeking out an existence in Paris when a single mistake makes him a prisoner of House Silverspires. He hates Fallen, Houses, but when he finds an old magic-infused artifact and starts seeing visions of Lucifer Morningstar (the old head of House Silverspires), the House might not be the worst thing in Paris.
Madeleine – a human mortal, addicted to angel essence (magical heroin made out of angel bones), and a refugee in Silverspires after the violent coup of her former house. She lives in fear of her former master, Asmodeus, so when Silverspires is forced to host the heads of other Houses–including Asmodeus–Madeleine must fight to save her new home and keep her addiction a secret, or risk being thrown out.
Isabelle – a newly Fallen and extremely powerful, Isabel is the wildcard of the group and kind of like a foil to Philippe. They share a bond but they clash repeatedly over their different views of Houses–Isabel relies on Silverspires for protection but Philippe can’t reconcile the good qualities of the House with what the Fallen have already done to him.
I could go on. Other major players are Selene, current head of Silverspires, and Asmodeus, which leads me to my next point…
What are those criteria?
I said above that I really don’t give out five stars. This is because your book has to meet a number of points that I rarely get to see:
Fantasy/Spec fic — it probably has to be fantasy or speculative fiction. I’m sorry, I just can’t get as invested in contemporary books (there are a few exceptions when the material is particularly relevant, like THUG). You must have that otherworldly presence.
- And THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS does! Not only do we have Fallen and the strong impression they each make, but we have Vietnamese influences from the spirits of Annam to the Jade Emperor, dragons to immortals, and elemental magic. I loved it!
Good writing – Obviously, to get five stars, you have to write a compelling book. I know enough about writing to see the shape of the story–the different beats that most writers will hit to keep the reader interested. What I don’t want is to know how that beat will unfold.
- THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS is a murder mystery book in an urban fantasy wrapping. The complicated relationships between characters and Houses are revealed in layers throughout the story and the truth about the threat to Silverspires isn’t revealed until the very end. De Bodard keeps readers guessing all the way until the finish.
- This book is GAME OF THRONES meets gothic fantasy, it gets into the nitty-gritty of what it means to be a Fallen in Paris–made of magic in a land starved for power. The House politics and machinations of individual characters are reminiscent of the schemes of Lannisters and Targaryens, with almost as much death.
Diversity (specifically LGBTQ+) – this is where most books fail. Your book needs to be diverse but you absolutely must have LGBTQ+ rep to get five stars from me. Why? Because queer people are underrepresented in media but we were present throughout history, don’t leave us out because your book doesn’t take place in modern or future times–alternate timeline or otherwise.
- Y’all. This book has multiple queer COUPLES. The two major Houses are led by two queer power couples and I’m fairly certain Selene is possibly genderqueer? There are a couple occasions where the author mentions Selene is wearing men’s clothing. Take that as you will.
- Oh, and it’s never pointed out! It’s just there. De Bodard just refers to Selene and Emmannuel as lovers and the two share private scenes where their close bond is there to characterize them but not be obvious, trite inclusivity. Even better, Asmodeus himself is gay and stuff happens with his lover so that, basically, these relationships are never pushed under the rug. They aren’t gay/lesbian for queer rep points and then quickly forgotten (seriously, people do this), they just ARE. Thank you, Aliette de Bodard. This was amazing. It’s been a long time since I read queer rep that was just there, not there for diversity points.
- The book is also obviously diverse in other ways–the main character is Vietnamese, some Fallen manifest as POC, men and women are power players in their own rights, different religions are represented, one of the characters has a drug addiction, the only thing I do not recall is disability rep (no, Isabelle’s missing fingers don’t count). I considered knocking off half a star for this and I may come to wish later that I had. For now, I’m very happy with this book and I’ll be looking for disabled characters in other stories from this author.
What I Disliked
Not much, aside from lack of disability rep. I think the villain payoff could have been stronger but otherwise I basically loved this book through and through. I am so lucky that I waited this long to read it, because I finished book one right before book two was released! I’m listening to the sequel now and it’s even stronger writing so far. What am I going to do while I have to wait for book three????
Fans of urban fantasy who want something a little different, like Vietnamese immortals trapped in a Fallen-infested House in Paris, with the Notre Dame, Lucifer Morningstar, and spoilery spoilery awesome Vietnamese things spoilers spoiler as a backdrop, this is the book for you.