The Gilded Wolves
by Roshani Chokshi
“Fashion, my love, just like the universe, owes you neither explanation nor rationale.”
Published Jan. 15, 2019 by Wednesday Books
Genre: YA historical fantasy
Date finished: March 3, 2019
Content warnings: racism, colonialism, mentions of abuse
It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.
To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.
Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history—but only if they can stay alive.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
This book has everything: Found family. A diverse group of brilliant people. The dark underbellies of Paris’ Gilded Age. A knife hat??? Solving riddles and treasure maps. Sparkly outfits. Complex magic system. Discussions of colonialism. Morally gray characters. Clocks made out of bone. Masquerade balls!!
Even though this book is set in a real-life location and time period, the combination of the the fantasy elements and the historical setting give it a high fantasy feel. This meant it took a second for me to find my footing and figure out all the new terms and magic system, but what a world it brings us into! Certain people have the ability to control specific materials, resulting in beautiful Forged objects and advanced technology, causing the book to straddle the line between fantasy and science fiction.
But first, let’s talk about the characters, since this is above all a character story. And I am always a sucker for this kind of group dynamic.
There’s Séverin, the leader and mastermind, determined to reclaim his stolen inheritance.
Tristan, Séverin’s chosen brother, who is skilled with plants and keeps a tarantula as a pet. *shudders*
Laila, the mom friend, who lives a double life as a popular dancer and holds the group together.
Enrique, the historian trying to make a name for himself.
Zofia (my favorite of the bunch ❤️❤️❤️), the engineer hoping to get her life back on track.
And finally, Hypnos, an heir that joins up with them whose motivations might not always be in their interest…
I loved this group of characters. Their dynamic was a joy to read, with plenty of banter as well as tension to keep the story going. Every character has their own unique backstory and motivation, and while there wasn’t enough time to get in depth on all of them, I felt like I understood them all individually.
Not to mention that this group is amazingly diverse, especially for a historical novel! Séverin, Enrique, and Hypnos are all biracial (French-Algerian, Filipino-Spanish, and French-Caribbean respectively), Laila is Indian, Enrique and Hypnos are bisexual, and Zofia is Jewish and, I believe, autistic.
This book is full of riddles and puzzles, reawakening a love for this kind of story that I’d forgotten about since reading the Redwall books as a kid. The characters constantly have to piece together clues in a treasure hunt-type adventure that I never would have solved in a million years. But of course, these characters are brilliant. It’s so fun to read about people who are incredibly skilled at what they do. I listened to an interview with the author where she said that she wanted this book to be a bit like National Treasure but…good. 😂 And I’d say she succeeded!
With this book, Roshani Chokshi explored the not-so-pretty side of history. The writing glitters with lavish descriptions of parties and outfits and food, transporting me into that time period. But it also shows how these characters’ lives are impacted by prejudices of the time based on their race, religion, ability, gender, etc. For example, Séverin was denied his birthright because the Order couldn’t accept both him and Hypnos as illegitimate, non-white patriarchs. An entire plot point hinges on an artifact that was stolen by colonizers. In the author’s note, Roshani Chokshi says that she wanted to explore this contradiction of horrors in a time period of beauty and opulence, saying “When we revise the horror and sanitize the grotesque, we risk erasing the paths that led us here.”
The Gilded Wolves is an exciting heist/treasure hunt steeped in history and magic, transporting the reader into a time period that feels like a whole different world. The imagination it must have taken to envision this story is mind-blowing. And of course the writing was beautiful, evoking the setting and keeping me glued to the page through the entire story. Anyone who loves fantasy, a brilliant mystery, and a group of interesting characters should definitely pick up this book!
Also, that ending??? Turn on your location, Ms. Chokshi, I just want to talk.
“Anything could fall. Towers that scraped the heavens, Houses with pockets deeper than empires’, shining seraphs who had once been in the confidence of God. Even families who were supposed to love you. Nothing was invincible but change.”