We come into a world of decadence: Paris 1889. The World’s Fair is in progress, and the streets are bustling with life. There also exists a highly secretive Order of Babel made up of a collection of highly influential Houses. The Order believes that there exist Babel fragments (from when the Tower was destroyed) that hold great power. They also believe that certain people were born with the “small breath.” They can’t create ex nihilo (something out of nothing), but they can create something new out of something old. People with this “small breath” are known as Forgers.
A group of people live and work in one of the hotels in the city, L’Eden. There is Séverin, the owner, who was once part of the House Vanth before being rejected as the Patriarch and his House being declared dead. Then we have Tristan, who has grown up alongside Séverin — brothers not in blood but in everything else. Zofia is a clever engineer with a great liking for mathematics but who has been kicked out of her university simply for being Jewish. She and Tristan have the ability to Forge objects. That is, they can manipulate matter and make it into different things. For example, Zofia creates a walking stick that emits a powerful light. Many Forged objects have hidden abilities, such as a coat button that can double as a weapon. Next, there is Laila, a dancer with the ability to read the history of an object simply by touching it. But her own history is shrouded in darkness. Finally, we have Enrique, a historian bound to L’Eden.
One day Séverin receives a call he never thought would happen. If he helps the Order retrieve an ancient artifact — the eye of Horus, he will receive his rightful inheritance. As Patriarch, he could potentially solve all of the group’s problems.
This book is difficult to summarize because the world is so intricate, and each of the characters are vital to the story. It’s one where you feel like you’re actually there. It has a sense of familiarity, but it still offers something fresh.
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi is filled with extraordinary prose that had me laughing at times and crying at others. While there is a heist and some action, the book is much more about the characters and the overall atmosphere. It reads like a Fantasy of Manners version of Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. And it is pulled off excellently. If anything, though, this is the type of book that will sweep you away with its beautiful prose. The world-building is intertwined throughout the novel. It may be a bit confusing at first, seeing how all the pieces fit; but it does eventually come together. This is a book you could easily fly through, but it’s one you should probably slow down just a tad. The intricacies of the world (from the Order, to the Houses, the magic, fashion, etc.) were handled very well and blended in nicely with the overall plot.
Something that didn’t quite work for me, however, is how the relationships and infatuations were handled. They felt a bit disjointed from the rest of the story. While I loved the characters individually, I just don’t think the story needed the romantic elements. Perhaps little hints here and there that could then be expanded for the second book. (And speaking of the second book, the first one ended with enough closure but also enough open that I can’t wait!) Representation is fantastic as well: with different beliefs, skin-tones, sexualities, and more all having a place in this world. There is discussion to be had from this book about how the history of the world and our own personal histories can affect (and in a small way control) our lives today. This wasn’t a perfect book, but it came close. It’s one I’m glad I read and one whose sequel I eagerly await.
(I received an e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley.)