Friday, August 28, 2015

The House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard

Gollancz, ISBN 9781473212558, August 2015

In a Paris that isn't our Paris, Houses led (mostly) by Fallen angels rule the city, in uneasy peace and much quiet conflict. The oldest of these Houses, Silverspires, was founded by Morningstar, the first and oldest of the Fallen.

But Morningstar vanished without warning twenty years ago, and his last apprentice, Selene, has led Silverspires since then. She's not as hard and ruthless as Morningstar, and that may not be a strength. The House is having problems, and its allies are perhaps becoming unreliable.

Meanwhile, a new Fallen has just fallen to Earth, in a bad section of the city, and a few members of a gang reaches her just before Selene does. Selene wants the Fallen alive and in Silverspires' care and service; the gang wants to dismember her for the magical artifacts they can make from her breath, blood, skin, and bones.

One of the gang, going by the name Philippe, is his own kind of strange, neither Fallen, nor ordinary, mortal human with no magic but what he can steal from angels. He's not comfortable cutting pieces off the injured and not yet fully awake Fallen, but he knows that if he doesn't make himself useful to the gang willingly, they'd be just as happy to dismember him.

This doesn't mean he's happy when Selene and her bodyguards show up in time to stop major damage. Other gang members flee, but Philippe, for reasons he doesn't understand, can't leave the young Fallen.

It's a fateful choice, one that draws him, Selene, the new Fallen, and the members of Silverspires and two other Houses into a dangerous struggle and a buried curse. Philippe, the new Fallen (soon named Isabelle), Selene's lover Emmanuelle, Silverspires' human alchemist Madeleine, find themselves caught in dilemmas of conflicting loyalties and duty.

I found myself completely drawn in from almost the first paragraph. This world is not our world, and its history is not our history, though many of the place names are recognizable provided you did not sleep through geography in a school system that actually taught it. There's a claustrophobic feeling to Paris, yet there are reminders of the wider world, and the Houses have had their own colonial adventures, even if not exactly the ones that happened in our world. Every important character here is complex, flawed, and interesting--and possessed of strengths sometimes unexpected even by themselves.

I love this world and this story, and these characters. Highly recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via Penguin's First to Read program.