- Apr 9, 2016
Imagine a Paris ruled by fallen angels. The city of lights controlled by creatures of blazing passion and power. Imagine it in the wake of a Great War, a place of faded elegance and damaged beauty and lurking danger.
This is the world of Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings and it just goes to show that she really does have the best ideas of the genre.
Into this picture comes Phillippe, an Annamite (that is to say, Vietnamese) Immortal whose reduced circumstances has forced him to exist in exile as part of a street gang. When the gang finds the newly fallen Isabelle, events lead to both Phillippe and Isabelle coming under the aegis of House Silverspires, once the greatest of Paris' houses under the rule of Morningstar - but Morningstar is gone. In his place rules his last apprentice, Selene, aided by a large cast including Madeleine, a mortal alchemist.
The words large cast are key here. Phillippe is notionally our MC here, but he very much shares this role with the ladies. The need to establish this is possibly what lies behind my first bugbear and that is the story takes a long time to establish itself. I enjoyed the writing and the scenes enough to keep going, but this book took a very long time to truly get me hooked. That's also possibly because De Bodard take a rather light touch with her world building, leaving me more confused than I like at times.
Once the plot gained momentum it was utterly compelling. The House of Shattered Wings hits a lot of my sweet spots in terms of style and execution. Its a melodramatic mystery at heart and I love both big heavy emotions and twisty mysteries. De Bodard writes incredibly well. She has the brooding otherness of Gaiman and the elegant passion of Guy Gavriel Kay. When it comes to characterisation, I felt there was a little too much going on to really give the characters space to shine. But she does has an excellent facility for portraying the inconsistencies in humanity; that gift made them vibrant and interesting even if I didn't really fall in love with them. It also helped drive the themes of loyalty and betrayal that pop up again and again through the book.
Alas, when the ending came, it came all too quickly for me and rather unsatisfyingly. Is that on my impatience, or me just not liking De Bodard's pacing? I suspect its part of both. And its not all about the pacing either. There's some decisions - particularly one of Phillippe's - that feel very formulaic.
So there it is. For me, The House of Shattered Wings are an enjoyable read thanks to incredible felicity of style and an amazing concept, but fell a little short of my hopes due to plotting and pacing issues. By now this seems to be my standard Aliette De Bodard review, but each time the issues feel a little less. Hopefully when I read the next one, my issues are gone entirely.