The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

(9.0/10) This book is wreathed in mythology, magic and mysticism.

Book of the Year 2015 (see all)

Have you ever read a book that from the first paragraph you just can’t put down? The House of Shattered Wings is definitely one for me, set in a post- apocalyptic Paris it is full of the tattered remnants of once regal houses that have managed to survive a magical war that was driven by the need for power and dominance. Although the book focuses on one particular House named Silverspires, Paris is the gothic backdrop to a world torn to shreds set near the banks of the Seine and incorporating Notre Dame and its surrounding areas.

The book is focused on three characters that are very disparate from each other: Philippe is a former Immortal from Vietnam, Isabelle is an angel who has recently fallen from Heaven and Madeline is a human alchemist for House Silverspires. As their stories progress all three get caught up in the intrigues and power struggles between the various Houses of Paris.

House Silverspires was once the grandest and most powerful House in France, it was founded by Morningstar (Lucifer himself), but after Morningstar’s disappearance twenty years ago, the House’s power is on the wane. Now led by Selene, (Morningstar’s last pupil) whose thoughts are always with the House and how to keep it strong, she is an effective leader but at times can be seen as limited in her thinking and stubborn when other people are trying to give help and advise. This may be due to the older the Fallen becoming set in their ways over centuries so that there is no room for fresh thinking rather they are mostly reactionary. It is Selene who brings both Isabelle and Philippe into House Silverspires and in her own way sets in motion the events of the book.

Philippe as mentioned previously is a former Immortal from Vietnam. Years before he was drafted into the Fallen’s war, due to this he has strong feelings against ever being a pawn to the Fallen. As Philippe is a survivor he has spent most of his life in France trying not to be noticed or thought of as anything out of the ordinary, but one stupid decision leads to others and Philippe unwittingly becomes the catalyst for unleashing a very deadly force back into the world.

Through Philippe’s bad decision he and Isabelle have an almost psychic link to each other and this keeps him close to House Silverspires almost as much as being bound to the House by Selene's punishment. Isabelle in comparison to the other Fallen we meet is unusual due to her being newly Fallen and she still has an innocence about her that makes her seem quite naive, but at the same time Isabelle is more fearless and powerful than she can truly understand.

The third character Madeline is a human alchemist with an addiction to Angel Essence, although this is slowly killing her. It is her way of coping with the atrocities she has seen in the past when she was a dependent in House Hawthorn. Madeline is the main human focal point in this book full of magic and due to this is very relatable, as unlike the others she is fallible with a much shorter life span from the others and an almost pathologic need to be safe. All three characters need to learn about the dark histories of the Houses to truly understand what is about to befall them.

De Bodard’s phrasing is excellent and one of my favourite lines which relates to House Silverspires and the curse that haunts it is as follows: “All you hold dear will be shattered; all that you built will fall into dust; all that you gathered will be borne away by the storm...” House Silverspires stands alone against a coming storm, not knowing if it can trust the other Houses such as Hawthorn and Lazarus to stay out of matters that do not concern them or whether their meddling will help them gain the upper hand. This is a very dark story where you really do not know who will survive till the end of the book.

This book is wreathed in mythology, magic and mysticism and it is such a compelling read that maybe the book itself is magic. The twist on angels being power hungry was also really interesting, especially as the book never goes into why they have Fallen. I liked how the different kinds of magic were not complementary or even understood by the different practitioners. The House of Shattered Wings is a fantastic book full of sacrifice, vengeance and justice.

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Our interview with Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. She is the author of The House of Shattered Wings, a novel se [...]

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