The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

House of Shattered wings

Publisher : Roc (USA), Gollancz (UK)

Publishing date: August 18th 2015 (Roc), August 20th 2015 (Gollancz)

Were I to sum up de Bodard’s House of Shattered Wings in one word, I would say layered.

At first glance it could seem a pretty straightforward story, a sort of Game of Thrones between immortals who reign over pieces of a once great city now struggling to survive in the aftermath of the Great War, but it goes far beyond that.

De Bodard drops us right into the middle of events, just like the newly Fallen who will be called Isabelle, we find ourselves in the ruins of a Paris devastated by a magical war . Slowly, as we progress, the setting unfolds: the Fallen, very literally angels cast out of Heaven, rule what is left of Europe, and, as colonial powers, much of the rest of the world. They are immortal or very nearly so (although they can be killed) and possess an innate magic that is a remnant of their angelic nature.

…But when they first reach Earth they are in shock, wounded from their Fall and helpless, and their magic, the essence compenetrating their bodies, is free for the taking of anyone callous or desperate enough to be willing to hack a semi-conscious victim to pieces.

Isabelle narrowly escapes such a fate, thanks to the head of House Silverspires, Selene, who also brings back to the House, as a prisoner, Philippe, the enigmatic Annamite gang-member who she caught literally red-handed and who wields a kind of magic Selene has never experienced before.

We see the unfolding events and understand the history of this version of Earth through the eyes of Selene, Fallen head of Silverspires after the disappearance of its founder,      Morningstar; of Philippe the Annamite veteran turned gang-member; and of Madeleine, the human alchemist of the House .

And through them, what could have been a purely escapist, vaguely horrorific story reminescent of a gothic novel becomes a meditation on power, justice, choice and mortality.

Houses are the only bastion against chaos, is it right to do everything to protect one’s House, even though Houses are responsible of the current situation to start with?

When does the need for justice turn into ruthless vengeance? A sorely wronged student of Morningstar and an  equally wronged Philippe give far different answers to this question.

What consequences have long term power and privilege on those thus endowed when they have no one to answer to?

Among the characters in the novel I was most captivated by Philippe, the outsider. For reasons that are revealed in the course of the novel, he is almost a mirror image of a Fallen, but with one fundamental difference: Phillippe is, in the dephth of his being, human, something none of the Fallen has ever been.

I’ve seen some readers complain about de Bodard’s ‘telling and not showing’, in my opinion that expression has been bandied about so much without really explaining its meaning, than some readers throughly misunderstand it.

Nowadays many novels with several points of view are narrated in alternating first person, Madame de Bodard in The House of Shattered Wings writes in third person limited and the ‘voice’ might sound strange to readers not used to it, but that’s a far cry from telling us what a character does as opposed to showing us their actions and underlying emotions.

If you are looking for a fast read that will keep you entertained for a few hours  (nothing wrong with that), then House of the Shattered Wings isn’t the right novel for you, but if you want something that will stay with you long after you have closed the book and make you think, I highly recommend it.

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