THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS by Aliette de Bodard

24581979

The House of Shattered Wings
(Dominion of the Fallen Book 1)
By Aliette de Bodard
Roc Books – August 2015
ISBN 9780451477385 – 402 Pages – Hardcover
Source: AceRocStars Street Team


Set in an alternate history, late 20th Century Paris that lies in near ruins, The House of Shattered Wings is a dark urban fantasy of competing houses who compete for control of the city. But these houses of noble power set in the ashes of a great apocalyptic conflict are not founded or controlled by humans, but by fallen angels and ancient magic. Once at the top of political influence, House Silverspires is in rapid decline, its powerful founder gone missing decades past, and its current members now targeted by a mysterious, unknown force. As its current leader tries to maintain House Silverspires’ existence, a trio of potent wild-cards fall under its protection: a human alchemist struggling with addiction and escape from past loss, a newly fallen angel, and a strange young man of rare abilities who appears neither human nor angel.
 –
Those who read the major markets for short speculative fiction and fantasy are likely familiar with Aliette de Bodard’s science fiction stories set within her alternate history Xuya Universe. Prior to reading The House of Shattered Wings this is the only writing I really knew her from, so I was surprised to find out the novel I anticipated was a fantasy. (I later learned she does have another alternate history fantasy series of novels from Angry Robot Books). This ignorance actually made me start the novel with optimistic expectation because I was curious to read something from her that I could approach more independently from my previous reading experiences of her SF.
Of her short fiction that I’ve read, I consistently find the stories to be beautifully written. A native French speaker, de Bodard’s English prose is spectacular and her dialogue is generally engaging. Despite this, her stories have been very hit or miss in enjoyment for me. Some pulled in my attention, while others I could just never fully connect with the plot or characters. Reading The House of Shattered Wings I felt similarly. Rarely do I feel so ‘wishy-washy’ over a book. I had a difficult time first getting into the novel, but slowly began to develop some more interest as the story unfolded. Yet, overall I never felt strongly connected to its characters (perhaps due to their being so many), and I found myself strongly regretting the absence of certain elements, while still enjoying fairly well those elements that were present.
 –
Another general way to state all of this: I understand how readers could both really love this book, while also find it a big disappointment despite the obvious quality of the writing and de Bodard’s talent. Because I felt all of this, like a tug-of-war, throughout my reading The House of Shattered Wings. So then, what specifically did I like and what did I feel was missing?
To start with my negative impressions, they stem from the complexity of de Bodard’s universe that she is introducing here. The first volume in a series, it contains a troop of characters of major importance, including multiple protagonists. It is a mashup of several speculative genres while also including a prominent mystery, several angles of romance, and some decent delving into matters of spirituality, culture, and mythology. It is rich and dense: a universe I really want to get to know filled with characters that should become dear to me. But it’s all too much for just this book, the first step in what is to be an even grander series. And despite those statements, I’m going to go on and say that I wished it had something more: a fuller setting. With fewer characters, fewer twists to the plot, and perhaps fewer focused themes there could have been some more room to see more of this post apocalyptic, alternate history Paris that the characters inhabit. Another reader I noticed use the word ‘claustrophobic’, and I think this is apt. The view is so close to the myriad characters that there is little direct sense of the physical world they inhabit.
The added bit of mystery genre to this novel, however, is one factor that really made me enjoy the story, particularly by its closing chapters as I finally also got the plethora of character identities under some type of memory, control. de Bodard incorporates the magic, the fantastic, into the politics of this universe really effectively. Towards another point of the novel’s strengths: I’ve read so many novels where I adore the setup and then become embittered by its ending. While The House of Shattered Wings may try to overdevelop its setup, it does takes all of its plot threads and ties them up satisfyingly well. I finished this pleased with its conclusion, and looking forward to what future books would bring, perhaps with a bit narrower focus.
If you’re familiar with de Bodard’s short fiction, then decisions on whether to read this novel should be easy, particularly if you have strong feelings one way or the other on urban fantasy featuring fallen angels (in a generically spiritual sense). For those unfamiliar with her writing, I suggest you try out some of her short fiction if you are curious, but hesitant, to start a full novel. She has several short stories set within the Dominion of the Fallen universe. Though I haven’t read those – like her other short stories – I suspect they are representative of the high quality of de Bodard’s writing, and also contain style,  plotting, or character that will permit you to judge the ‘fit’ for yourself.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from the publisher as part of the AceRocStars Street Team in exchange for an honest review.

Proud to be part of the Ace/Roc Star Street Team

I was fortunate to be chosen to be a member of the Ace/Roc Star Street Team. What this means is that I’ll be getting copies of recent and upcoming titles from Ace Books and Roc Books, who are part of the Penguin Publishing group. Aside from reviews, there may also be some goodies and potential giveaways for followers of Reading 1000 Lives. So keep your eyes open for future news.

I appreciate this opportunity because I haven’t read much from their catalogs in the past, and have been uncertain of where to start off, particularly with so many giant series. So I hope readers of this site will appreciate my point of view as someone who isn’t already a fan of a successful author or who can honestly say how well a novel may work on its own.

And of course this gives me the chance to jump right into debut authors or new series and get the word out, whether my reaction is positive or negative. If you have a favorite author from Ace/Roc I’d love to hear about it, or a title you are looking forward to. I won’t be able to read all they send, so your thoughts could help with decisions.

Here is the first mailing that I received:

10922725_884183131640640_915770028848273362_n

I’ve just started Day Shift, by Charlaine Harris, so look for a review of that soon. Speaking of, Harris is going on tour for the novel’s release, so check out her full schedule below to see if she’ll be in a city near you!

April 24th-26th
Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo
Chicago, IL

May 5th @ 7:00 PM
Barnes & Noble
7700 West Northwest Hwy
Dallas, TX

May 6th @ 6:30 PM
Murder By the Book
2342 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX

May 7th @ 7:00 PM
Barnes & Noble
2900 Peachtree Road NE
Atlanta, GA

May 8th-10th
World Horror Convention
Atlanta, GA

May 11th @ 7:00 PM
Joseph-Beth
161 Lexington Green Circle
Lexington, KY

May 13th-17th
Romantic Times Booklovers Convention
Dallas, TX

May 27th-29th
BookExpo America
New York, NY

May 30th & 31st
BookCon
New York, NY