The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

House of Shattered Wings

It was Ninon who first saw her. Philippe had felt her presence first, but hadn’t said anything. It wasn’t a wish to protect the young Fallen so much as to protect himself — his status in the Red Mamba Gang was precarious as it was, and he had no desire to remind them how great a commodity he could become, given enough cruelty on their part. And Heaven knew, of course, that those days it didn’t take much for cruelty or despair to get the better of them all, when life hung on a razor’s edge, even for a former Immortal.

They’d been scavenging in the Grands Magasins—desperate and hungry, as Ninon had put it, because no one was foolish enough to go down there among the ruins of the Great Houses War, with spells that no one had had time to clean up primed and ready to explode in your face, with the ghosts and the hauntings and the odor of death that still hung like fog over the wrecks of counters and the faded posters for garments and perfumes from another, more innocent age.

No one, that is, but the gangs: the losers in the great hierarchy, the bottom feeders surviving on the carrion the Houses left them. Gangs could be huge, could number dozens of people, but they were fractured and powerless, deprived of the magic that made the Houses the true movers of Paris. And as far as gangs went, the Red Mambas were small; twenty or so members under Bloody Jeanne’s leadership; and Philippe, on the bottom tier of the bottom tiers, just doing his best to survive—as always​.

Philippe is an exiled immortal from Annam, able to sense and manipulate khi currents, although he will go to great lengths to keep this fact a secret from friends and enemies alike. When he comes across Isabelle, newly Fallen with all the raw power and innocence that entails, he’s ready to help his gang dismember her for the magical power that can be extracted from Fallen flesh and bones — but a chance encounter leaves Isabelle alive, missing only a couple of fingers, and both of them in the custody of House Silverspires.

Silverspires, we are told, was once the greatest of the Houses which now struggle for supremacy in what remains of Paris. The city has been largely destroyed by a magical war; in the ruins, denizens of the Houses follow an unwritten code of surface-level courtesy, while beneath the deceptively polite facade they scheme and collude to bring one another harm. The Fallen, angels cast out of heaven, can wield preternatural powers — but arrive with an intense vulnerability, ignorant and innocent, and with magic in their very bones which can be stolen by anyone who finds them.

Selene is the head of Silverspires, a Fallen woman struggling with a form of imposter syndrome made all the more acute by the fact that the leader she’s succeeded was Morningstar, the very first and most powerful of the Fallen. When Philippe accidentally unleashes a curse upon the House, Selene must use all the resources at her disposal to investigate, attempting to hold the House together and counter the encroaching darkness before the impeccably-dressed vultures can descend. But this story is that of the House, more than of its leader, encompassing an ensemble cast from across the social spectrum of Silverspires. Madeleine is the House alchemist, human, mortal, and dangerously addicted to angel essence; Isabelle and Philippe are outsiders, with very different perspectives, but they may be the only ones in a position to help.

I’m a pretty fast reader. Given a book I’m loving, and uninterrupted time (say, a train journey, of which I’ve had several lately), I can read a couple of books in a day. It’s not often I have to consciously slow myself down, but to read Shattered Wings quickly would have been to waste it, gulping down a fine vintage wine like water. I spent a month on it, picking it up for a brief taste between other books, setting it down again before I could overindulge. This book is just that beautiful: an exquisitely drawn Gothic portrait of magic and mystery. Highly recommended.

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