Title: The House of Shattered Wings
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Series? Yes. 1 of 3.
Rating: 4/5 stars
I bought this book because I was promised a Vietnamese immortal trapped amidst broken and fallen-angel ridden Paris. Did the book deliver? YESSSS.
NOT YOUR USUAL FALLEN ANGELS
A Fallen. A young one, barely manifested in the world, lying in pain, somewhere close; somewhere vulnerable in a city where young Fallen were merchandise, creatures to be taken apart and killed before they became too powerful and did the taking apart and the killing.
The book puts a twisted, dark spin on the standard fallen angel mythology. In this alternate world’s decaying Paris, the Seine is blackened with ashes, while the streets are ruled by a motley of gangs and Houses. Paris is deprived of magic, its only source being the Fallen and their corporeal body, down to their very bones, blood, skin, and hair. Newly formed Fallen, fresh out of the sky, are prey to unsavoury character who wouldn’t hesitate to mutilate them for a taste of magic. I loved this horrific spin on the usual angel lore, as it at once confronts the dark side of humanity and the depth to which the angels have fallen. The atmosphere of the book follows suit, it’s steeped in secrecy, in whispers of sins and secrecy.
STORY & SETTING
At the core of the plot is a mystery surrounding House Silverspires. Once, it stood at the top, reigning over the Paris under the rule of its famous leader: The Morningstar, Lightbringer, Lucifer. Since his mysterious disappearance years ago, his apprentice, Selene, has shouldered the momentous task of keeping the House alive. Death are littered through the book, each deceased are inexplicably linked to House Silverspire. Part of the story focuses on the unraveling of this mystery, though there are plenty of deviations from this main story. The pacing of The House of Shattered Wings is at times languorous, however, I still enjoyed it as it allowed me to immerse in the world and setting.
The river was dark and dangerous, like everything else in Paris: waters that would eat at your flesh, waves that would reach out, grab you from the embankments, and drag you under the choppy surface to drown.
Paris itself is a prominent character in this book, with detailed description of its terrible, catastrophic beauty highlighted frequently throughout the story. We see characters reminiscing Paris in its golden days, when Morningstar still ruled – and mourning the splendour slowly lost through the ages. I adore seeing real world places in a fantasy setting, it’s like stepping into a parallel universe. Seeing this bleak and destroyed version of Paris makes me want to visit the real place, it appeals to me in a way staged tourism leaflets never could! *weirdo*
“Annam … is a land of spirits,” Emmanuelle said. “Magic is tied to the land—there’s a spirit for each village, for each household—for mountains and rivers and rain.”
Do you know how frickin’ hard it is for me to see fellow Viet in fiction, let alone fantasy fiction?! Their presence in this book made me shed tears of happiness. If the descriptions of Paris gave me a touch of wanderlust, then the descriptions of Annam made me homesick. Aliette de Bodard has it right you all, the scent of lemongrass, the slight obsession with nuoc mam, and the elusive spirits that govern our lands.
Though the main character, Phillipe, never set foot in Annam for the entirety of the novel, his yearning for home and detailed prose about the country made me feel like I was there again with him. I also loved the incorporation of the East Asian mythology into a story about angels. A world where the Jade Emperor co-exist with Lucifer? YES PLEASE. The book craftily combines the folk tale I grew up listening to, with the Western supernatural narrative I often read – how could I not love it?! This is diversity done right, and it makes me happy to my core!
HINTS OF MORE EXPANSIVE MYTHOLOGY
Beyond Europe, before the mad rush to colonize other countries and bring their wealth back to the motherland, there had been—other beings, other Houses: the nahual shape-shifters of Mexico, the jinn of Arab countries, the Jewish shedim and nephilim—and once, a long time ago, the demigods and heroes of ancient Greece and ancient Rome—long since vanished and crushed by newer magics
It’s not just angels and Jade Emperors, you guys, there’s hints of other mythology at play in this book as well. In fact, there’s an appearance from at least one other pantheon in this book – though I don’t want to give anything away. I love the set up of this, and hope to see more of the world being developed in future instalments. I am also looking forward to seeing more development into the angel lore we explored in this book. Though the main plot is largely resolved within The House of Shattered Wings, there are still plenty of plot threads I’m excited about for future books.
I also hope to develop more of a connection to the characters at a later stage. While I loved the premise and the world building, I felt a little disconnected from the multiple POVs we had in this book – even my fellow Vietnamese, Philippe! I have high hopes though, so I will be checking out the sequel for sure.