This is my review during the first read. With my reread, I raised the rating to 4.25 out of 5. You can see the updated review here.
The House of Shatterd Wings is a very interesting book. It’s a blend of post-apocalyptic urban fantasy, historical fiction and mystery, set in a Paris as fallen as the angels who inhabit it, and with some influences from Vietnamese mythology. I’ve never found anything similar, and I probably never will.
What drew me in right from the first chapter was the atmosphere. I usually don’t like post-apocalyptic settings – for many reasons, the main one being that I like pretty and don’t like sad, and this kind of places are usually very not pretty and very sad – but this version of Paris was fascinating. Books set in Paris are usually praised for their atmosphere, because there’s a lot to work with (it’s not that difficult to write pretty descriptions of a place that is both well-known and objectively pretty) but Dark!Paris works even better as a fantasy setting. It’s as beautiful as it is creepy.
Also, everything about this book gives such a sense of rot. There’s something deeply wrong with this city and everyone who lives in it, and the shadows of the past are – quite literally – still affecting the present.
This book can be seen as a murder mystery, but I find it’s mostly about political intrigue between fallen angels and their Houses, with murderous magic and old grudges around. There’s also commentary on colonialism from the point of view of one of the PoV characters, Philippe, who is Annamite (Vietnamese). Colonialism influenced both his homeland, its magic, and Paris’ magic in ways no one expected.
This story is told mainly through three PoVs. There’s Philippe’s, and then there are Madeleine’s (the human alchemist of House Silver Spires, dying because of her addiction to a specific kind of magic) and Selene’s (the head of House Silver Spires).
I loved that this book had very little to no romance, but there was an established relationship between two women (Selene and her lover Emmanuelle) and I’m always here for powerful lesbians.
I have to say, though, that the characters weren’t as interesting as the worldbuilding and weren’t exactly the driving force of the story, and I would have liked them to be more developed. I found them distant, even if they weren’t badly written, but surprisingly this didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment of the story: the suspense, the intrigue and the mysterious magic were enough to keep my interest, and I almost read this in one sitting.
What brought me to lower the rating was the ending. I didn’t like the ending at all. It felt pointless, and the answers to the mystery were unsatisfying, the kind that the reader couldn’t have figured out along with the characters because they barely knew that person even existed. I know it’s only the first book in a series, so I understand why it felt so abrupt and unresolved, but I wanted more from those last chapters.
My rating: ★★★¾
I read this book for the “read a book with a villain/antihero as a main character” of Marvel-A-Thon.
TW: death of a side gay character; the main f/f couple is ok at the end of the book.