I’d like to claim I tracked this book down because the book blogging sites I frequent were all recommending it, which they did. But the truth is – I took one look at the scrumptious cover and immediately knew I had to read it.
Paris has survived the Great Houses War – just. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens continue to live, love, fight and survive in their war-torn city, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over the once grand capital. House Silverspires, previously the leader of those power games, lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls. Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen, a alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a resentful young man wielding spells from the Far East. They may be Silverspires’ salvation. They may be the architects of its last, irreversible fall…
Madeline, Silverspires’ overworked, failing alchemist who is haunted by fear of the past; Isobel the newly fallen, who was attacked by Phillipe, a gang member with a chequered past – these three characters are at the centre of this gothic, post-apocalyptic mystery. Each of them are marked by what has happened in their pasts, even if they cannot fully recall what it was. All the houses are scrabbling to hold onto their power so they can continue to repel the hungry, dispossessed Parisians eking out an existence amongst the magic-scorched ruins.
de Bodard’s evocation of this wrecked landscape and the yearning for past glories is vivid, giving this book a broken sense of what was and will never be, again. Not that the narrative hangs about. Right from the moment Isabel crashes from Heaven and lands on Silverspires’ territory, the action kicks off – often brutal and surprising, but always engrossing.
As well as capable of providing a memorable backdrop for her action, de Bodard’s strength is providing complex, troubled characters, none of whom are particularly likeable or easy to empathise with – they are all too damaged, or so suffused with magic and age to be able to immediately identify with them. However, they are also absolutely riveting and despite the small, unfriendly font I found myself reading long into the night to discover what would happen next. And plenty did…
The narrative arc is very well handled – I can understand this book’s popularity. Though the setting and character complexity are reminiscent of literary speculative fiction, the pace and narrative tension is all you could wish for in a genre read, which is fine by me. The result is an extraordinarily vivid read, brimming with atmosphere and action that builds to a strong climax and a shocking denouement. I’m delighted this offering is part of a series and will be looking out for the next book, The House of Binding Thorns, due out next year.