Published by St. Martin's Press on January 15th 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
History is a myth shaped by the tongues of conquerors.
– From the Author’s Note
Well. Chokshi has really stepped up her game with this book. It’s like Six of Crows mixed with the best bits of a Dan Brown book. In short, it’s full of friendship, scheming, and lots of puzzles to solve.
I began reading The Gilded Wolves with some trepidation. My multiple attempts to read the author’s past work led to me complaining about a disconnect with her flowery, poetic writing style. In this book, the descriptions are vivid and opulent, but she loses a lot of the synesthetic metaphors, making it a much more enjoyable read for me.
It’s Paris 1889, during the Exposition Universelle – a world’s fair that featured grand operas, displays of locomotives, the largest diamond in the world at the time… and a “Negro village”. A human zoo. This is not fantasy. Much of this book is the real history of Paris in all its sparkly ugliness. Into this very real setting, comes a tale of the divine art of Forging – an art whose power is believed to come from the broken pieces of the Tower of Babel.
Séverin Montagnet-Alarie is a thief and the son of a French father and North-African mother. He’s also the heir to the dead House Vanth, if only the Order of Babel would accept him and grant him his inheritance. Séverin’s pursuit of what is rightfully his leads him on a hunt for a Horus Eye, which is said to reveal the location of a Babel fragment. To do so, he will of course need the help of his diverse band of allies.
And can I just say I loved them? Each and every one.
💫 Tristan – Séverin’s sweet brother; a lover of plants and animals, especially his tarantula Goliath. He’s such a lovable goof.
💫 Laila – A feisty Indian dancer and part-time pastry chef. The chemistry between Laila and Séverin sizzles, and we soon learn that there’s history between them that they are both trying to forget.
💫 Zofia – One of my two favourite characters. She is Polish, Jewish, and a genius. I think it’s also implied that she might be autistic, too, as she struggles to understand jokes and human behaviour in general, but is great with numbers and solving the puzzles.
💫 Hypnos – Séverin’s childhood rival. Hypnos is dark-skinned, unapologetically queer and absolutely hilarious. “Oh no, shiny things,” moaned Hypnos, clapping his hands to his heart. “My weakness.”
💫 Enrique – Ah, and my other favourite character. Enrique, my love. He’s bisexual and mixed race – Filipino and Spanish – and is just the kind of perfectly snarky, funny, smart character I love. Plus, he’s a history buff, so even more yay.
I love them all.
Also, The Gilded Wolves is a smorgasbord of mythology. In fact, it’s main weakness might be that it’s more than a little convoluted and dense. There’s four third-person perspectives, and the codes and puzzles bring in a mix of Greek mythology, Biblical mythology, Chinese cleromancy, mathematics, and more. It makes a certain kind of poetic sense to have so many different mythologies, though, given the Babel story.
I think the bombardment of various mythologies is
tempered somewhat by the dazzling and very enjoyable dialogue. It is
especially fun when Zofia and Enrique bicker. They are both so smart,
but in very different ways, and it is amusing to watch the
back-and-forth of Zofia being dry and literal and Enrique being
sarcastic and snarky.
“What proof did you have? What was your research?”
“Superstition. Stories,” said Enrique, before adding just to annoy her: “A gut instinct.”
It’s a very interesting read, both fun and packed full
of history lessons. Unlike the author’s other books, this one stays low
on the romance and high on the scheming and politics. But if that
disappoints you, don’t worry. With lines like this, romance cannot be
too far away:
“That boy looks like every dark corner of a fairy tale. The wolf in bed. The apple in a witch’s palm.”
CW: Racism; antisemitism; abuse.