There are a lot of elements swirling around in Aliette De Bodard’s The House Of Shattered Wings. It’s an alternate history of sorts, and a Parisian urban fantasy, and a murder mystery. Additionally, it combines both Vietnamese fairy tales with the complex hierarchies of a world of fallen angels, and there are monsters in the Seine.
In a derelict Paris, angels have fallen to Earth and set up a system of competing houses. Some humans have joined them, while others haven’t. Silverspires has lost some of its lustre since their house ruler Morningstar disappeared, but they’re still powerful enough to detain Phillipe, a Vietnamese outsider who is discovered mutilating the unconscious body of a just-fallen angel named Isabelle.
Phillipe and Isabelle’s arrival at Silverspires coincides with a series of murders that could tear the house apart. A shadowy figure is brutally killing those who rely on the house for safety, and Phillipe soon finds himself at the centre of an ancient and bloody power struggle. However, he’s no mere mortal.
It’s a testament to De Bodard’s skills that we’re completely immersed in the world almost immediately, without her resorting to a ‘here’s what happened’ information splurge. None of the fallen angels can remember why it was that they fell from Heaven.
They know that at some point they made a choice, but not what it was, and now most believe that God is no longer interested in them. This ensures that most, if not all, of the fallen are living in some moral shade of grey, which means that Phillipe is definitely in trouble.
He’s got plenty of secrets himself, and De Bodard teases out his history and the exact nature of his abilities over the course of the novel.
It does sometimes feel like Phillipe’s history and the mythology of his home country gets a little lost, but that’s because the Paris of fallen angels that the author has created is so compelling.
Silverspires house ruler Selene must deal with attention from Hawthorn’s Asmodeus (sinister, cruel) and Lazarus’ Claire (a ruthless human), who smell blood in the absence of Morningstar.
Meanwhile, the newly fallen Isabelle is something of an unknown quantity; psychically tied to Phillipe, but almost certain to adjust quickly to the cold, hard practicality of the fallen.
However, the most interesting character of a fascinating bunch is Madeleine, a human alchemist, secretly addicted to angel essence to ease the pain of her wasted lungs, and terrified of being taken back by Asmodeus, who considers her his property. Phillipe gives the story momentum, and Madeleine its mournful heart.
It’s brimming with ideas, some of which rush by so quickly that you might wish De Bodard had taken a little more time to explore them. This is a good problem to have though. It’s fascinating, moving and hugely readable.