The House Of Shattered Wings, by Aliette De Bodard
Aliette De Bodard’s The House Of Shattered Wings takes place in a beautifully rendered Paris in the midst of an alternative history. Set some time after a great war has ravaged the city (and changed the world), Paris is a shadow of its former self, turned to rubble and ruin by fallen angels whose thirst for power and penchant for magic have transformed Notre Dame into a Gothic nightmare and the Seine into an ominous artery that fuels the death and decay running rampant throughout the city.
The Gothic fantasy setting lets multiple-award winner De Bodard run riot, fusing fantasy with reality, religion and history. The Fallen run the great houses of Paris, acting as an aristocracy that protects the lower classes with Christian magic syphoned from their very bodies, while playing political games with each other as they battle for power. These fantastical elements are interlaced with instances of realism, such as the habitual users of angel essence, a highly addictive and dangerous powered substance derived from the bones of angels that temporarily imbues users with magical powers. Readers who prefer their fiction realistic will find a foothold here, although fantasy fans will still be the happier, what with all the magic angels, spirits and dragon kingdoms.
That mix, strengthened by the addition of protagonist Philippe’s alternative eastern background, amazes the reader throughout, but without really offering any firm grounding. This is down to De Bodard’s ambition more than anything else. Too much goes on in Shattered Wings for the reader to relax, particularly as the first Fallen, Lucifer himself, is missing from much of the novel yet easily overshadows his brethren, Philippe broods a little too much, angels are still falling from Heaven, the world’s magicians and witches have been displaced by these falling angels, mythical gods are actually summonable monsters—oh, and the main antagonist is a dead apprentice turned demon who destroys by snake bites and banyan trees.
Luckily, Shattered Wings both deserves and requires a sequel, to give readers more and De Bodard the chance to slow this world down, so that the characters can fully form and her ruined Paris can be used again. There is enough of the familiar about Shattered Wings that can attract even the most die-hard realist, and it is fantastical in almost every respect, giving fantasy followers another world to lose themselves in. Shattered Wings is a beautiful introduction to De Bodard’s fantasy—the breaks just need to be applied a little more liberally.