Book Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Title: The Gilded Wolves

Author: Roshani Chokshi 

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: January 2019
Hardcover: 464 pages

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.

Stand alone or series: First in a planned trilogy

How did I get this book: bought

Format (e- or p-): ebook

Review

It’s Paris, it’s the 19th century but not as we know it. In this alternate world the power of Forging allows people to either manipulate matter or the mind and fragments of the biblical Babel Tower give Four Houses immense fame, power and prestige. Those who control a Babel Fragment control the world and potentially could even destroy it too.

Séverin is
the rightful heir of House Vanth but when the time came for him to inherit, the
Order of Babel denied his claim and declared his house dead (the fact that Séverin
is a man of colour definitely played a role). Ever since then, Séverin has been
working in the shadows to steal powerful artefacts, building a fortune and
dreaming of revenge. He is not alone though: he has his team, expertly put
together with the skills needed to pull each heist. They include:

Tristan – Séverin’s
younger foster brother, a sweet kid and a genius botanist/naturalist with a pet
tarantula that terrorises the rest of the team.

Enrique – a
gorgeous, queer Spanish-Filipino historian whose need to be a political
activist in the Philippines is constantly and frustratingly disregarded by
those in the trenches.

Zofia – a Jewish
immigrant who wants to take care of her family back home and is saving for
that. Zofia is also a brilliant Forging expert, coming up with incredible tech
to help the group. She is also slightly on the outside of the group as she has
some trouble understating human emotions, innuendoes and jokes.

Laila – a sensual,
smart Indian chef who uses disguises and a public persona to hide the fact that
she is terrified she is not a real person (she thinks she is a made-up human
with a final deadline, whatever that may mean). Laila is the one who takes care
of the group as a whole, tending to their more emotional needs. Laila and Séverin
had A Thing a few years ago BUT THEY DON’T SPEAK OF IT even if their hearts (and
bodies) WANT TO.

Then one
day, an old frenemy makes an offer Séverin cannot refuse. Hypnos, the heir of
House Nyx and also a man of colour (there can only be ONE of those as house
leaders) offers him the chance to restore Séverin as rightful heir: all he has
to do is steal something that belongs to the Order. Easy peasy.

What follows
next is a puzzle solving, high stakes heist in which each member of Séverin’s
team will be asked to use their skills to their limits – no matter what.

With a
narrative that alternates between four of the main characters’ viewpoint (Séverin,
Enrique, Zofia and Laila) as they investigate, steal and gain the knowledge
necessary to do their job. There are ups and downs, romantic tension (Hypnos
and Enrique, Enrique and Zofia, Laila and Séverin) and many moments of heart-beating
fun and twists. I loved the characters a whole lot, easily the best thing about
the novel and what is so highly recommended about it. Their past is multifaceted,
their present offering a treasure of tension, dreams and hopes. I specially
loved to see Hypnos slowly becoming part of the group (he just wants friends,
guys) and the lovely way that Laila just took care of everybody, paying attention
to their emotions.  

On the down
side I am not completely clear on how Forging really works, how it affects the actual
world and how the Babel Fragments (and the Houses and the Rings) actually do. Sadly, the worldbuilding is slightly
convoluted and confusing in that way.

That said,
there is a really interesting juxtaposition here: the characters for being who
they are – people of colour, queer, immigrants – are all from the outside looking
in. They are able to get just a small amount of treasure and fame to keep them going
without being really able to affect the world they live in. In that way, I was
pleased to see how the issues of imperialism and colonialism are explored and
remarked upon, but the world is still very much based on the Western powers and
its usage of the Babel Fragments. The latter themselves are a complication because
they are intrinsically connected to a biblical
view of the world and therefore a foundation that excludes other mythologies
and religions. I would like – and fully expect to – see the author addressing
that in the sequel, perhaps fully subverting that expectation. After all the
powerful are the ones who write history – and at the moment, the powerful here
are the Western world with their Christian background.

To sum up: in
spite of my misgivings with regards to the specifics of the worldbuilding, this
is a fantastic YA Fantasy novel with a rich background, an overarching fun plot
that mixes puzzle solving, heists and revenge, with the author not pulling any
punches in her frantic denouement and a central group of lovable rogues that really
stole my heart.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

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