I’m a real fan of Chokshi’s writing – see my review of her stunning debut The Star-Touched Queen – and when I requested an arc of this one, I was prepared for more of the same – a rich, lushly told fantasy story shot through with eastern allusions. But this one is completely different…
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.
Yes – this is a fantasy criminal heist adventure and if I’d realised that, I might not have so enthusiastically requested it, as I have DNF’d far too many third-rate copies of Scott Lynch’s gentlemen bastards and their adventures. But I’m very glad I did get my hands on this one. I’ve seen the constant comparison to Six of Crows and while the story has some similarities – a heist adventure featuring a team of misfits – there are also vital differences.
The setting is an alternate Paris where magical artefacts are used to assist the ruling families stay in power. While there is a team involved in a mission-impossible type of heist, the leader and arch-planner is Séverin, who yearns for the future he lost aged seven, when what should have been his induction into the golden circle of ruling families was abruptly snatched from him in a plot that falsely claimed he wasn’t his father’s true heir. After that he was passed around a series of abusive step-fathers, each one mistreating or using him in some nefarious fashion. Along the way, he teamed up with Tristen, who had the misfortune to be the actual son of one of these nasty characters.
Chokshi’s prose style comes into its own as she gives us a vivid insight to each of these characters and what matters to them, which meant that when it all hits the fan I really cared about each one. It also meant that I didn’t ever find myself muddled or confused as to who was who doing what to whom. I like the fact there is real racial and sexual diversity among the characters, which is presented in a nicely matter-of-fact manner as their energies are engaged in trying to track down a magical ‘thing’ which will change everything.
The pacing works well. While this story starts fairly slowly, before winding up to the mayhem that ensues as the adventure goes awry, Chokshi also effectively manages the aftermath, which could have dragged into something a lot more downbeat and depressing. With this story, I get the sense that Chokshi has fully matured as a writer, gaining confidence to set her stories and characters outside the eastern backdrop that fuelled her previous adventures. One of the reasons why I regularly DNF fantasy heist adventures featuring a team of misfits, is that it is very difficult to write well. But when it all comes together, as it does here, it is a powerful, emotional read. I staggered away from this intense story with my head full of Séverin, Tristan, Hypnos, Zofia, Laila and Enrique – and hoping I don’t have to wait too long to discover what happens next…
The ebook arc copy of The Gilded Wolves was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.