The House of Shattered Wings

Aliette de Bodard
The House of Shattered Wings Cover

Philosophically ambitious, yet underwhelming


Summary: Post- Great (magickal) War Paris is populated by warring magickal Houses, but not all House members feel at home.

A meta-feather: "It hadn't changed a thing. Such people's lives were richer, easier because of the House system. And in turn, the House system existed only because such kind, gentle people kept pledging themselves to it and strengthening it from within. They were all complicit, without exception."(loc. 4235)

Thoughts: This fantasy novel about fallen angels bound by House loyalty works as a metaphor for imperialism and its covert oppressions. The characters behave as non-heroic people living within an oppressive system: an adaptive approach, rather than reactive, reminiscent of what I most enjoyed about Mieville's The Scar. Even more interesting, de Bodard subtly subverts the young, innocent beauty trope, which inspires curiosity and uncertainty until the very end. But, because The House of Shattered Wings is about subtle maneuvering, none of it is very captivating, and while the metaphor works well, much of the actual story feels shallow, especially with so much character dialogue and an atmosphere that feels more like a hop-on-hop-off Parisian bus tour.

Prerequisite reading: However, de Bodard is clearly aware of the challenge she brought on herself to depict a delicately balanced society of adaptive response, especially considering this essay she wrote about the reality of heroism under colonialism. Additionally, one review from The Guardian places it in the "Children's Books" section, which puts the novel in a different light, though I'm not sure younger folks would have patience for the lack of adventure.

Needs moar satanism: This being my own weird holdover from my goth days, but for a book about fallen angels, I was hoping for some blasphemous invective, but even the Satan stand-in is a delicate fellow.