About the Book
A superb murder mystery, on an epic scale, set against the fall out – literally – of a war in Heaven.
Paris has survived the Great Houses War – just. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens continue to live, love, fight and survive in their war-torn city, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over the once grand capital.
House Silverspires, previously the leader of those power games, lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen, a alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a resentful young man wielding spells from the Far East. They may be Silverspires’ salvation. They may be the architects of its last, irreversible fall.
Huge thanks to A.E. Marling for writing this review. Learn more about him and his books on his website.
If you’d like to hobnob with fallen angels wearing swallowtail suits in post-apocalyptic Paris, read The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard. Sip absinthe beside workers on break from coercing rusted machinery in shell-shocked factories. Avoid the liquid malice of the Seine River; its acid waters resent mankind for the poisons of the war, and black waves will gobble up anyone who leans too far off a bridge. Above all, take care at night. There’s more to fear in the darkness than magic-hungry gangs. Something winged this way comes.
Angels plummet from heaven, dazed, all memory lost. All understanding, gone. They do not know why. They have only their grief, and god never answers the prayers of the fallen. The sky has born them down to Earth, and many die within their first hours. A desperate man will tear them apart and eat them raw. Angels are worth their weight in magic.
Philippe is one such man in need. Once he was enlightened. Now exiled and far from the khi currents of his homeland, he needs more power or his gang will cast him adrift in the city chaos. He has to begin eating a newly fallen angel, Isabelle, one finger at a time. Part of him is relieved when a stronger magic user and angel stops him, though he knows then he’s doomed. A warlord of Paris imprisons him in her stronghold, a bastion of tyranny amidst the soot and roadblocks. Or so Philippe sees House Silverspires.
Only in the Great Houses can angels be safe. Here they relearn how to live. They gain more than dapper duds. Magic bolsters their bird bones. Wards protect them from the dystopia. The circle of protection enwraps not only one building but many. House Silverspires is a collection of haunted mansions. More dust lives here than people. Guardian energy shimmers through unused wine cellars. Magic fills in the broken panes in the glass windows of Notre Dame, holding out the city’s madness. Until now.
Philippe brings with him a foreign power. Eating part of the angel Isabelle has linked him to her, and she’s tied to the house’s pulsing wards. The links create a chain of vulnerability, and when Philippe touches a cursed mirror by accident, he unleashes the house’s bane.
“All that you hold dear will be shattered.”
A hissing hatred stalks through the house. Its venom annuls magic and leaves an angel dead in the cathedral. His skin is covered by cryptic circles. His light is snuffed out by a shadow of vengeance. Through walls, across decades of time, it has come from history to obliterate this place of sanctuary.
It has arrived too late. This malice seeks an angel who has long since left, the Morningstar, the First Fallen. Though he hasn’t been seen for years, he still overshadows Silverspires. By his burning sword they knew him, and his wings of razors. On his back, they could be seen “glinting like blades the instant before they cut into flesh.”
The Morningstar’s ruthless dedication built a house of power. With him gone, Silverspires is crumbling. The Lady Selene has more arrogance than leadership. She can only react, never initiate. Her squeamish mercy pinions her in this brutal world. Not even her white bowtie will be enough. Her house will break.
The House of Shattered Wings gives us more than an intoxicating and skin-crawling setting. It also doesn’t stint on diversity. Philippe was raised a Buddhist, when the world was a better place. Lady Selene loves another woman, a black angel named Emmanuelle. Aliette de Bodard cares about showing varied viewpoints. If you’d like a fantasy with an Aztec setting, read her Obsidian and Blood series.
In this book we’re immersed in the perspectives of multiple lost souls. Isabelle the angel will have to overcome her gangly innocence in this smoking ruin of existence. Her faith in others is “pure and incandescent as a falling star.” Her mentor is Madeleine, an alchemist addicted to angel bones. Their powdered potency has burnt out her lungs, but at least a quick death will let her soon forget a lifetime of betrayals. Madeleine would like to believe she can redeem herself by protecting her new charges in Silverspires, yet she knows “miracles never happen” in a city of fallen angels.
As interesting as the characters and setting are, the story loses momentum in its later half due to changing antagonistic forces. The narrative also requires the independent Philippe to begin caring for others again, and I never felt I crossed all the way with on his arc. I wished for a deeper, non-magical bond between him and Isabelle. They might never’ve exchanged more than a few terse words, if he hadn’t eaten her fingers.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I going to slip on some silk gloves and attend a ball in House Hawthorn. The leader, Asmodeus, is something of an angel hipster, but I shan’t hold it against him. His tastes in wines and ancient spellcraft are impeccable.