Set in a darkly glamorous world The Gilded Wolves is full of mystery, decadence and dangerous but thrilling adventure.
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.
This book is over and all I’m left with is a fucked-up sleep schedule and 100 more crushes on fictional characters that I don’t have time for.
Everything I knew about The Gilded Wolves’ fascinating premise led me to believe that it’s going to dig in the talons of sentimentality and vibrate in the chambers of my heart and awaken my soul from a slumber that was far, far too long. I’m a sucker for tightly knit bands of outcasts and a good heist book, and I’m completely confident in stating, without an ounce of hyperbole, that this is one of the most fun books I’ve ever read!
So, what’s this book about?
Trouble often comes to those who make it and Séverin Montagnet-Alarie—a French-Algerian wealthy hotelier and part-time treasure hunter—has carved for himself twice as many paths to trouble.
Ten years ago, the Order of Babel—the all-too-powerful secret society of Paris—denied Séverin’s claim as heir of House Vanth and declared their line legally dead. But the Order’s decision is holding every hallmark of a lie, and for years, they luxuriated in seeing Séverin’s dream shatter, and him hobbled and lamed, foundering in the shards of his broken hopes.
When Hypnos—young heir of House Nyx—offers Séverin the chance to restore his lost inheritance in exchange for turning his “acquisitions” skills to a mythical and possibly dangerous object belonging to the Order, Séverin’s mind flashes before him an alternate history of his own life, in which he settles in for a lifetime of saying “fuck you” to the Order. His future now seems to have thinned to a point of destiny, and it had a name: revenge. But one can only get so far on thoughts of vengeance alone…
- Zofia, a Jewish Polish mathematician with a rare magical affinity who was arrested for arson and expelled from the University and who, like me, has a massive fear that no one actually likes her, rather everyone is just politely tolerating her hoping she’d leave them alone. (me? projecting? more likely than you’d think!)
- Enrique, a brilliant Spanish-Philippino historian who was more like a textbook that occasionally remembered how to be an active member of society and who, also like me, is one of those people who are so sarcastic with you which could only mean that they’re unapologetically flirting with you or you really annoy them and they can’t stand you.
- Laila, an Indian made-up girl with an ability to read people’s history while holding an object of their possession, baker extraordinaire and the epitome of what a mom friend is.
- Tristan, kind of a botanical specialist and who, also like me, is a very recluse sort of person, but, unlike me, just wants to be left alone with his gigantic pet spider.
- And even Hypnos himself, the young heir of a French aristocrat whom people were quick to underestimate because they only ever see the dark of his skin and consider him less than they are. But as it is often the case, underestimation only happens to one’s greatest peril.
Six huge nerds. One impossible heist slash treasure hunt. The outcome could either be a dream or a death sentence. Paris drags out its secrets, and Séverin soon learns the things that could be taken away in a heartbeat, all in the pursuit of power.
“When you are who they expect you to be, they never look too closely. If you’re furious, let it be fuel,” Séverin said, looking each of them in the eye. “Just don’t forget that enough power and influence makes anyone impossible to look away from. And then they can’t help but see you.”
The Gilded Wolves reminds me of Six of Crows. If a root of this book had tapped down into a hidden pool of poison and drunk, then fed on bitter smoke and vengeance and a williness to do violence that had never been known before. In other words, The Gilded Wolves is definitely less lethal—but it’s spectacular in its own cruel cleverness and beauteous, dark, and enthralling in its own unique way.
The Gilded Wolves is a magical take on an ever-compelling theme—with just enough riddles and conundrums to entertain the history and science geeks but not so much to turn off the fantasy naysayers. And best of all, it’s inclusive, diverse, feminist, and wonderfully queer. I found myself filled with gratitude coiling into every moment of admiration for Chokshi’s craft: gratitude for agency, nuance, complexity, inclusiveness, representation, mingled with awe at the way she draws on a wealth of meticulously detailed research to flesh out the characters’ surroundings, and never falters in the balance between the necessity of telling a story, and the indulgence of making it a pretty story by imbuing it with the lush, descriptive language for which Chokshi has become known.
I could also write gushing praise about the deep undercurrents that makes this book transcends a mere story about cool magic and perilous quests into something so much more—about the straightforward discussions of slavery, exploitation, colonialism and colorism, about how fascinating is the book’s twining of religion, capital and enchantment, about the depth, loneliness and longing of the characters—their longing to be called what they want to be called instead of simply falling into what they were given at birth, about how Séverin, Enrique and Hypnos’s biraciality is the book’s warm, glowing heart, about their weariness of grasping at smoke and trying to connect glimpses of their history together, of wanting to belong to both sides of their heritage and being denied one (or both) of them—about how effortlessly interlaced all of the aforementioned is with the presence of magic.
“What no one tells you is that even when you decide which world you will live in, the world may not always see you as you would wish. Sometimes it demands that you be so outrageous as to transcend your very skin. You can change your name. Your eye color. Make yourself a myth and live within it, so that you belong to no one but yourself.”
Everything in this book delighted me, from the characters’ endearing wit and multidimensionality to the plot that manages to be twisty and thorny without being unduly complex or overpowering—yes, sometimes the tension of the story gets inevitably lost, but I love how Chokshi cleverly replaces it with the slow unfurling of all the weasley half-truths and lies that are propping up the shambles of the characters’ lives—to the supporting interlopers, and antagonists who are textured enough to feel real in the moment, and especially to the way this book hews to all my favorite romantic tropes: the slow burn enemies-to-they’re-actually-not-that-bad-to-friends-to-are-we-lovers-now romance (sprinkled with intense polyamorous vibes), and while we’ve all heard of one-sided unrequited love, this book raises you “two-sided unwanted love” where both sides are deeply in love with the other but both sides are disappointed in themselves and are like, “really?? them?? really?” I loved it.
“Am I pretty?” asked Enrique, plucking at his fake beard and patting his hands over his jowls, wrinkles and age spots. “Be honest.”
“‘Pretty’ is a stretch. Let’s call you ‘striking.’ Or ‘impossible to look away from’.”
“Oooh. Like the sun?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of a train wreck.”
The ending abruptly throws the veracity of most of the earlier narration into doubt, which was kind of dislocating but in a thrilling sort of way. I finished this book with the feeling of having raced through a labyrinth and found only dead ends—a labyrinth with no solution. The Gilded Wolves is definitely setting up interesting hooks for future installments and I’m genuinely excited to see where and how the story unfolds!
If you’ve never yet read a book by Roshani Chokshi, this would be a great place to start.
ARC kindly provided by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.