The House of Shattered Wings

Aliette de Bodard
The House of Shattered Wings Cover

The House of Shattered Wings


A very strong 3.5 stars

When I utterly failed the 2016 r/fantasy bingo, the first thing I decided to do was ensure that, if at all possible, I would read unused books for the 2017 cards. The AMA (ask me anything) author I decided on was Aliette de Bodard, whose name I came across once in a Tumblr post about authors of colour who wrote good speculative fiction. In typical fashion, I then proceeded not to read any of her books, but thankfully a Kindle sale brought The House of Shattered Wings down to £0.99 so I got a copy and forgot about it for a while. Then Aliette did another AMA and all of a sudden I had started reading her book (it does help that I have quite a few books on Kindle already) and I was gone, sucked right in.

This is Paris, after the Great War, a Paris that is wholly unlike the one you're used to. It's been gutted and devastated by this magical war, the air filled with pollution, the Seine running sluggish and deadly with magical residue. In this world of de Bodard's making, angels are Fallen from Heaven, after transgressions they cannot remember and they fall to Earth where their magic, their power and their long lives mean that they almost inevitably move towards the top of the food chain. The great Houses, responsible for the destruction and devastation of Paris, continue to vie for power and domination and into this world, we meet Madeleine, an alchemist and addict, Isabelle, a new Fallen possessed of incredible power, and Philippe, a man yielding the strange magic of the Far East. Their fates intertwined, they all clash within House Silverspires, the creation of the first Fallen Morningstar. But Morningstar is now gone, presumed dead, the magic of the House is waning and from the shadows something deadly is stalking them all, bent on revenge and destruction.

The things that de Bodard does well, she does really well. I liked the worldbuilding a lot, this decrepit and dying Paris, the Houses trying to become the most powerful and yet remaining the guilty party in this destruction of the city. Philippe's hatred of the Houses is entirely founded and I liked seeing things from his perspective, how he is an outsider plucked out of his native land and losing all hope of ever returning. It was hard not to sympathise with him, with how the callous actions of the Fallen betray their lack of humanity, how very easily these angels could completely sacrifice those around them, always in the name of the House.

The plot, up until the 65% part, is quite solid: there are mysteries to unravel, conspiracies to bring to light and the levels of scheming, plotting and undermining are both confusing and intriguing. But when The House of Shattered Wings turns into a straight up murder mystery, I found my interest waning somewhat. I didn't think there was as much tension in the narrative, like something was lost. I did still have some moments of awe, particularly around the dragon kingdom but they were few and far between.

I liked Isabelle, Philippe and Selene as characters, I thought them to be complex and interesting, with ever-shifting motivations and loyalties. I liked how they struggled with some very hard decisions, how they actually had to fight against malevolent forces bent on destroying them, I liked that they always considered things from multiple angles and even when I disagreed with their final decisions, I could still respect their reasonings. Madeleine, on the other hand, is a drag. Her past within Hawthorn House is immediately revealed and she suffers for it; even with her addiction to angel essence, I just didn't feel that her narrative went anywhere. Her whole thing with Asmodeus soon started feeling repetitive and I couldn't really care what her ultimate fate was.

I also found some of the language repetitive. Morningstar is constantly referred to as some great being and I never understood why, especially when he comes back from the dead, Asmodeus is always sardonic or predator-like, with his sneer and his horn-rimmed glasses, Madeleine is constantly reliving the events that led to her fleeing House Hawthorn and on and on. I could sort of understand what de Bodard was aiming for, but in a book that really shines on the strength of (some of) its characters, the constant repetition really didn't work in its favour. I wanted to love this book, because the ideas and the underlying conflicts are really interesting, the characters are complex and nuanced (well, some of them are), I like the idea of the Fallen and the implications of the existence of Heaven and God, but all I can muster is a very strong like.

Saying that, I dove into the sequel straight away, so it definitely has that going for it!