Fuck everyone who says that this is a rip-off of Six of Crows. And that is all I have to introduce this blog entry with.
Let’s get on with the review!
Title: The Gilded Wolves
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genre: Fantasy, Historical
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.
Trigger warnings: Graphic descriptions of injuries, on-page character death, graphic descriptions of blood and ritual bloodletting
☕ Quotes ☕
“Punctuality, with its unseemly whiff of eagerness, was for peasants.”
“Secrets keep my hair lustrous.”
“It’s part of my aesthetic.”
“I don’t want to be their equal. I don’t want them to look us in the eye. I want them to look away, to blink harshly, as if they’ve stared at the sun itself. I don’t want them standing across from us. I want them kneeling.”
“Nothing was invincible but change.”
“The only rules to follow were instincts and color palettes.”
“Is this what teamwork is like? How…hierarchical.”
“The world has a shit memory. It will never pay its debts unless you force its hand.”
“I can’t discuss the end of the civilization without wine.”
“People die for symbols. People have hope because of symbols. They’re not just lines. They’re histories, cultures, traditions, given shape.”
“God makes no mistakes in crafting hearts.”
“Scars sculpted people into who they were. They were scuffs left by sorrow’s fists, and to him, at least, proof of being thoroughly human.”
☕ Plot ☕
The first thing that comes to mind when you read the synopsis of this book is, “Hmm. A real-life historical Six of Crows.” You could totally be forgiven for thinking that. It’s what I thought too, when I first heard of The Gilded Wolves. But once I’d started reading it, I immediately realized I was wrong. This book may have a similar concept, but it’s beautiful and amazing in its own right.
I tweeted about this issue prior to writing this review, but I have to say that I am just the tiniest bit salty (okay, so I am very salty) that so many people are calling this book a rip-off of Six of Crows, or otherwise unfavorably comparing it to Leigh Bardugo’s works. Mad respect still to Queen Bardugo for featuring people of color and queer people in her book, BUT! The representation in The Gilded Wolves reaches a depth of analysis that Six of Crows cannot. Roshani Chokshi is of Indian and Filipino descent – two cultures that, sadly, still feel the heavy hand of colonialism around their throats. The Gilded Wolves isn’t just a heist story – it explores real life effects of colonialism and imperialism, the theft of artifacts from Asia by the west, the appropriation and commercialization of sacred rituals and ceremonies, and the overall effects of white supremacy and racism. As much as I loved Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo’s books do not delve nearly that deep into the histories, backgrounds, and implications of skin color that the characters experience.
This exploration of colonialism is a huge part of what makes The Gilded Wolves work. Each character exists on the fringes of “polite society”: accepted by some circumstance – Leila being a famous dancer and courtesan, Tristan being a much sought after gardener and landscaper, Enrique being a mestizo, Severin being the owner of a well-known hotel – but only just. Motive matters, y’all, and each character has their own clearly defined reason, rooted in prejudice and discrimination, about why they want to participate in this heist. Everything makes sense, and that for me is the clincher for a really good book.
☕ Writing ☕
I will say this about Roshani’s world-building in this novel: It. Is. Amazing. It takes some getting used to, believe me – there are times when I had to flip back a couple pages just to check my understanding of all the terms used. But the trouble I took to get everything straight was worth it. The magic system Roshani uses almost reminds me of the exposition from Thor: The Dark World, and how Thor explains to Jane Foster that science is just another word for magic. (Oops, the Marvel fan in me slipped out.) Anytime magic and science converge, I am all for it.
Also, as you can tell by the Quotes section of this review, this novel has quite a few choice phrases that make for some super quotable quotes. I especially adore, “Secrets keep my hair lustrous,” – which, by the way, Roshani is an utter QUEEN for being able to sneak a Mean Girls reference into a historical fantasy novel. And also, “It’s part of my aesthetic.” Priceless. (Also, we all know that was a shout-out to the original King of Extra himself, Kaz Brekker.)
But seriously, Roshani manages to pull off some grade-A magic with this book. The world-building, as I said, was superb, but I also adore the relationships she built between each of the characters. They felt real and tangible, and not just something I was reading about. You can distinctly see the threads connecting them all, and how those threads are forged in fire and wrapped in solid steel, despite all the words spoken to the contrary. They don’t very easily show affection, thanks to the hard hand life has dealt them, but it is very clearly obvious that they are a family and that they all care for each other in their own little ways. There is sometimes confusion and misunderstandings due to personal differences (Enrique and Zofia come to mind) but those are all worked through because of the realization that, at the end of the day, they have each other’s backs. Call me a cliche for loving the trope of a gang of thieves that are secretly family. I don’t care, gimme it all!
☕ Characters ☕
Ah. Herein, as they say, lies the rub.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: I absolutely did not care for the villain, which is why I knocked half a star off my rating. For me, the villain is super important to a story – more important, I think, than an excellent protagonist. Truly, the villain makes or breaks the novel. And while I’m glad to say that I don’t think the villain ‘broke’ The Gilded Wolves at all, I do have to say that I feel disappointed.
I like buildup to my villains. I like having hints sprinkled here and there throughout the book that the villain was someone I’d already been introduced to. Instead, the ‘big bad’ in this novel is some shadowy power structure-ish organization with mysterious, heretofore unknown agents. The reveal was pretty meh, in my opinion – but I do acknowledge that your mileage may vary.
I am very happy to report that the other characters do not suffer from the lack of buildup and are, instead, multi-dimensional, fleshed out, and well-crafted. We have Severin, the French-Algerian owner of one of the most well-known hotels in Paris, not to mention the mastermind of several high-profile heists. There’s Laila, an Indian dancer who is also known as the courtesan L’Énigme. There’s my favorite #1, historian and Filipino patriot Enrique who dreams of writing for La Solidaridad and joining the Ilustrados. We also have the Jewish mathematician Zofia who’s been confirmed to fall on the autism spectrum, and the botanist and landscaper Tristan who is a cinnamon roll and must be protected at all costs. There is also – perhaps the most complex character of all – Hypnos, my favorite #2, the young heir to House Nyx, who struggles to move through aristocratic circles because of his dark skin, and who is also unapologetically queer, fabulous, and dramatic. If glitter were to ever have a patron deity, it would be Hypnos.
I mentioned earlier that the relationships of the characters are very well done, but I’d also like point out here the chemistry between the characters that come to be involved in romantic relationships. (Apologies for the deliberate vagueness, but I do like to avoid spoilers when I can!) Chemistry is a big deal for me when inserting romantic relationships into sci-fi or fantasy novels, because I feel if its not done well, it can ruin my experience of the entire book. I am happy to say that this was most certainly not the case with The Gilded Wolves. The interactions between the characters who become intimately involved are fraught with tension thick enough to cut with Tristan’s gardening shears. And the phrases Roshani uses to describe emotions like lust, love, attraction, etc. are nothing short of poetry.
☕ Overall ☕
Sometimes, hyped books fail. And sometimes, they utterly live up to the hype. The Gilded Wolves definitely falls in the latter category. If you want to read about thrilling heists, the impact of colonialism, and fantasy embedded in real life history, pick up Roshani Chokshi’s latest book!