The House of Shattered Wings
Book One of the Dominion of the Fallen
by Aliette de Bodard
Fantasy | 402 Pages | Published by Gollancz in 2015
Aliette de Bodard is another author I unearthed at the Gollancz Book Festival last year, one who I have been eager to read ever since. The House of Shattered Wings, with its premise of warring angels on the battlefield of a scarred and ruined Paris, sounded far too intriguing to miss. Delaying time only enough to not actually get a signed edition, I made my purchase, opened it up and became instantly absorbed in this broken world of ruinous glory. This is a novel which, despite some minor flaws, is a beautiful and captivating read and promises great things to come from an author who isn’t afraid to turn the world on its head.
A superb murder mystery, on an epic scale, set against the fall out – literally – of a war in Heaven.
Paris has survived the Great Houses War – just. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens continue to live, love, fight and survive in their war-torn city, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over the once grand capital.
House Silverspires, previously the leader of those power games, lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen, a alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a resentful young man wielding spells from the Far East. They may be Silverspires’ salvation. They may be the architects of its last, irreversible fall…
The House of Shattered Wings follows the story of Paris following the fall of the angels and their subsequent war of dynasties; a clash of powerful houses which has already obliterated Paris and threatens to shake the city to its foundations once again. The Morningstar is gone, disappeared or dead – no one knows. His continued absence has left a void in House Silverspires and his apprentice and heir, Selene, must hold her House together. Something she is prepared to do at all costs.
But when a young angel falls to earth and is rescued from being brutally harvested for her magic, or Angel Essence, House Silverspires is turned on its head. A darkness is stalking its halls, killing its people and will stop at nothing but the complete destruction of the House. As we follow the story of Selene as she fights to retain power, along with Isabelle, the young fallen angel; Philippe, her would be murderer; and Madeleine, House Silverspires’ addict Alchemist, one thing remains uncertain – can House Silverspires survive those who conspire against her? Or will the darkness consume them all?
The true strength of this novel is de Bodard’s skill at descriptive worldbuilding. A ruined Paris is described in sumptuous detail – landmarks stand proud in their ruinous glory and its poisoned artery, the Seine, which has turned black with the corruption of magic, continues to flow through the heart of the city bringing with it death and ruin. de Bodard delights in taking the city apart, pulling down its stonework, shattering its stained glass, and creating a stunning backdrop to this new world of angels intent on underhanded and duplicitous warfare.
This is a novel with incredible vision and scope. Each dynasty, each House, is bound tightly in a web of intrigue, House politics and power struggles. Every character is tied just as tightly to their House, whether through free will or imprisonment, their very lives are linked to the House’s beating heart. And at the heart of House Silverspires is a distinct absence, a void left by the disappearance of the Morningstar. Without his power and influence, and with the other Houses vying for Silverspires’ destruction, it can only be a matter of time before it falls.
Characterisation in this novel is a much harder subject to tackle. Whilst each character is, in their own right, intriguing with the promise of a rich and detailed back-story, there was something about their depiction which failed to inspire an emotional connection in me that they otherwise might have. Madeleine was perhaps the exception to this trait. A flawed essence addict, she stumbles through the novel finding darkness and trouble at every opportunity with the inability to either confront or counter it. She remains a troubled but endearing character throughout whose singular emotional connection served to make her something of a heroine in this novel.
The majority of characters, however, read more like historical figures from a textbook; figures which tend to keep the reader at an arms length, are firmly separated by time, yet remain compelling enough to mitigate any negative impact their characterisation may have on the storyline. These characters remain fascinating to read but a further emotional connection would have served to win me over fully and add yet another dimension to the narrative.
The House of Shattered Wings is a vast and richly imagined novel which perhaps came to a head too soon. Although the storyline wraps up relatively neatly at its conclusion, I felt the absence of Morningstar and would have preferred the main antagonist to have featured more throughout the narrative and particularly towards the end of the novel. Despite these minor quibbles, this is a novel which also exhibits a lot of skill and strength in its writing – I defy anyone to not find any beauty in de Bodard’s descriptions – and, whilst I might not have connected with the majority of the cast, their promise of a rich and detailed history left me anxious to know more.
The House of Shattered Wings is a beautiful book with an impressive list of attributes to its name. Whilst there were some elements of the story which I wish were elaborated upon or explored further, it remains a distinctive, imaginative and exciting novel which takes its time to see you through to the end. I am definitely looking forward to spending more time in the Dominion of the Fallen.