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.
All right, the first review of 2019. Let’s celebrate that! Because, honestly, I’m not sure I can celebrate this book.
Don’t get me wrong. The Gilded Wolves isn’t a bad book. It’s just not a great one. And I was expecting great. This was one of my most anticipated books of the year. It should’ve been a slam dunk. But, alas, it was a slightly less impressive shot in basketball (I know, my knowledge of sports is astounding).
So what’s the problem? It’s not the plot. Though a bit faster-paced than I prefer, it is action-packed and keeps the reader on their toes. Perhaps a touch predictable in that it’s easy to tell when things are about to go wrong, but a fun ride nonetheless. The last hundred pages had me glued to my seat, desperate to find out how this plot was going to be resolved. This is perhaps one of the most exciting plots I’ve read in a while.
It’s not the world-building. On the contrary, Chokshi has created a fascinating and detailed universe. She finds a way to combine magic and science into something utterly sensible. Sometimes this comes across in info-dumps, but this is really only an issue at the beginning. Overall, this is a unique, intricate world that I can’t find any major fault in.
It’s not the writing style. Chokshi’s writing is vivid and lush. It’s not quite as lyrical as in her older novels, but that’s not a detriment. I don’t think Chokshi could write anything and have it not be lovely. Her turns of phrase are beautiful and powerful.
But if it’s not the plot, the world-building, or the writing style, what does that leave? Oh, right. Only perhaps what I consider to be the most important part of any story— the characters.
I don’t feel like I really know who these characters are. They’re archetypes rather than real people. I know more about their exterior motives than I do their inner struggles.
Moreover, many of them feel to me as lesser versions of Six of Crows characters. Séverin is a softer Kaz; Laila is an amalgamation of Inej and Nina; Enrique is Jesper; Tristan and Zofia are both amalgamations of Wylan and Matthias. Perhaps I’m bringing my own baggage to this novel, but I shouldn’t find this many parallels between the two. Yes, I read this book because it sounded Six of Crows-esque. But I thought the characters would be wholly unique.
As such, Hypnos is the only character that really sticks with me. He’s spoiled and funny, but also cunning and determined. He also just really wants some friends and allies. He doesn’t have a Six of Crows counterpart, so I didn’t feel like I was reading pseudo-fanfiction whenever he was on the page.
As the story goes on and the events start to impact the characters, I can see them starting to grow and change. This is especially evident in Zofia and Enrique. Zofia learns she has other strengths besides math and Forging. She begins to grow more confident. Enrique grows more serious and learns to better determine his priorities.
Laila has a little bit of this growth, in that she learns how to better wield traits she’s given her on-stage persona. But she’s still largely the same person at the beginning of the story that she is at the end. The same can be said for Séverin and Tristan. Are they really that fundamentally different?
The problem is, as I alluded to earlier, most of the characterization is dictated by outside sources. Each character has a big want that drives them, but nothing else substantial to tell the reader who they are. It made me feel disconnected from them.
The good news is that some of these characters start developing more by the end and plot threads are set up to produce more introspection. Hopefully, this means this issue will be rectified in the sequel. After all, Chokshi has a similar issue in The Star-Touched Queen that she vastly improves upon in A Crown of Wishes. Given this precedence, I have hope.
This series is also remarkably diverse. Séverin and Hypnos are both half-black, though Séverin is white-passing. Enrique is half-Filipino, but white-passing. Laila is Indian. Zofia is Jewish and autistic. Enrique and Hypnos are also both bisexual. I’m not sure what impact having two characters of color be white-passing has, but it’s worth noting.
Chokshi says in the Author’s Note that she wanted to explore how the time period known as “The Beautiful Era” was permeated with and infected by racism. I only wish it had been dealt with on more than just a surface level. Though it likely wouldn’t impact the plot much, it would give more insight into the characters. Even with this goal in mind, Chokshi still based these characters entirely around their job and an external want.
Can I, in good conscience, recommend this book? Sure. It’s not a bad book by any means. It just didn’t live up to my expectations. Had Chokshi spent more time on characterization, I probably would’ve loved this book. As it stands, I think it’s a decent read. It just takes more than a pretty concept to make a truly gilded story.
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