The House of Shattered Wings

The House of Shattered Wings - Aliette de Bodard

[I received an ARC through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I liked the premise, I really did—not to mention that theme of the broken, rotting throne at night against the backdrop of a ruined Paris. There's something both sick and magical to such a city. The Seine river blackened and polluted by magic turned sour, horrors lurking in its waters. Gangs scrapping remnants in order to survive, Fallen angels being their favourite preys, preys that end stripped up of blood and bone and basically everything, for the power those organs can bring. Houses full of mages, Fallens and their dependents, vying for domination, yet also teetering on the brink of destruction, for the last large-scale conflict among them ended up being the 1914 war, the Great War nobody nor any place in the world seems to have recovered even 60 years later...

Yes. Definitely enchanting, in a morbid way. I couldn't help but be fascinated by this charred landscape, by the sheer hopelessness permeating eveything and everyone, despite the pseudo-grandeur some of the characters tried to keep as their facade. Descriptions here worked pretty well for me, making it easy to create this picture of Paris in my mind, all the more because I've walked those places, the parvis of Notre-Dame, the Halles, and so on. The atmosphere was somewhat old-fashioned, in that people in the story clung to a world long gone by (far away colonies entangled in the War, displays from fashion stores back when everything was still gilded...), and a lot of names were really traditional French names (Ninon, Madeleine, Isabelle, Philippe...). Although, as a native French speaker, it was also somewhat weird to see those names associated to English ones like Silverspires or Morningstar; that's a matter of language on my part, though, and not any fault of the book.

And no romance. There was no room for that here. The only "links" were of blood and curses and magic and slavery of sorts. No "souls destined to be together". The relationship between Philippe and Isabelle definitely wasn't born under the brightest star, so to speak.

The reason why I'm not rating this novel higher is because... I wanted more. The mystery, the curse, those were intriguing, but the balance between unveiling them, developing the characters and showing the world around them was regularly a bit off. I would have wanted to see more interaction between Philippe, Isabelle and Madeleine; see more about how they evolved, or rather, could have evolved as people. I expected to see more of House politics, of the complex webbing of alliances and betrayal and various other ways of pecking at each other. More about Philippe's origins and what his presence in Paris meant, more questioning about immortality and fallen angels, perhaps? At times, I felt that all that was more akin to beating around the bush, and that a while elapsed with nothing really happening, neither in terms of events nor of character growth. That while would've been the perfect place to inject... well, "more".

I was also not too convinced by some of the secondary characters, more specifically Selene. I expected more cunning on her part, as someone who had been playing the game of House politics for decades. As a Head of House, she wasn't "older" than Asmodeus, yet the latter and his schemes hooked me much more, seemed more ruthless and thus believable. I got it, nobody could have equalled Morningstar, but...

All in all, this is still an "I liked it" book. Just not the "I'm in awe" story I had hoped for.