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Wrong Train, Right Time ([personal profile] wrongtrainrighttime) wrote2017-02-06 09:18 pm

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

de Bodard, Aliette. The House of Shattered Wings. Penguin Random House, 2015. Finished 1/29/2017.



I like Aliette de Bodard's writing, as the earlier posts on this blog will indicate, but I have to be honest: this book was a super easy sell for me.

Things I like: Angels. Fallen angels. Strange, inhuman, and terrifying angels.

Things this book features: Everything in the above list.

Okay, fine. More detail. First, the setting. A Paris devastated by magical war between Houses, run and populated by fallen angels and their retainers. The post-apocalyptic world that de Bodard creates feels incredibly vivid and brutal to me. It feels real and grounded in a real place, because it is set in a real place, but also because de Bodard obviously knows and loves Paris. And because of that knowledge and love, she can describe its razing and destruction in great and terrible detail. It's absolutely fantastic.

I think where the book really shines is in its characters, though. The narrative of House of Shattered Wings very clearly has a hero in Isabelle, but the story is told from the POVs of three difference characters orbiting Isabelle's growth and progress. It makes the ostensible hero strange and unsure and inscrutable. It's a really interesting way to tell a story.

And the POV characters are all carefully constructed to illuminate different aspects of the world pressing against Isabelle as a newly fallen angel. They were all great to read: Selene, the implacable and arrogant Fallen struggling under the weight of her own self-loathing; Madeleine, the tired and cowardly alchemist crushed between the machinations of the Houses; Philippe, the bitter conscript with no way home, torn between his justifiable anger and his basic loyalty and decency. As a triumvirate, they neatly encompass all levels of the highly stratified world they live in, and their jostling views of each other and of Isabelle make for an interesting kaleidoscopic experience. And at their center is the gaping wound of Isabelle's presence and perspective, her very existence highlighting the fraught nature of this world she's fallen into.

Of the POV characters, Philippe is undeniably the most interesting to me. I love how you can see him constantly struggling against the cruelties and attitudes of the France he's trapped in. I love his constant struggle to figure out how to survive in a world that is so hostile to him, while he's trapped and longing for a home he can never return to. In the end, he is probably kinder to House Silverspires than it deserves, because he came back to help -- even though he only came back for Isabelle. And yet, I think my favorite character was actually Madeleine. I felt sorry for her, her helplessness and self-loathing, the constant claustrophobic sense she carries with her of being eternally trapped, trapped, trapped. And yet, she has more courage than she knew and more than anyone has ever credited her for. I'm really excited to see that she's going to be the main protagonist in the sequel. (And also glad to see Philippe returning!)

As for the plot...I don't know how I feel about it. It was gripping, certainly. It definitely kept me turning pages to see what happened next. And yet, thinking back on it, the pacing of the story feels off. It felt a little like it proceeded in fits and starts, so I occasionally felt caught unawares when a sudden timejump was mentioned. One thing I will say though is that de Bodard was really good at building up plot threads for sequels: even though the next book's not a direct sequel, it undeniably builds on the revelations, mysteries, and happenings in this novel. It feels like a development from the Obsidian and Blood books, where Harbinger of the Storm and Master of the House of Darts were so deeply intertwined that they might as well have been one book, conveniently split in two. Whereas the plotting and foreshadowing in House of Shattered Wings is much more masterful at differentiating between this novel's happenings and laying the seeds for the next. I'm excited to see how those seeds will grow.