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
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