Colleen Mondor Reviews The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi (Wednesday Books 978-1-250-14454-6, $18.99, 388pp, tp) January 2019.
In this glittering journey through a fantastical late 19th-century Paris, author Roshani Chokshi gifts readers with adventure wrapped in mystery wrapped in (unorthodox) family drama that incorporates aspects of crime thrillers, caper flicks, and a fair bit of James Bond-esque espionage. The descriptions of the 1889 Paris Exposition are exquisite, and the history that Chokshi weaves into the plot is evidence of her thorough and wide-ranging research. A perfect blend of urban and historic fantasy with almost-steampunk, or more-so gaslamp elements and a devilishly clever literary puzzle, The Gilded Wolves is a succulent treat for readers eager for a novel that provides both deep character studies and plenty of page-turning action.
The Order of Babel is a powerful cabal of Parisian elite who live as royalty while adhering to their own stringent rules grounded in tradition and prophecy. (Yes, it’s one of those kind of cabals.) Séverin Montagnet-Alarie is barred from his place at the Order’s table by virtue of his mixed-race parentage, but that has not prevented him from taking his financial inheritance and creating a glamorous hotel in the heart of the city. There he has built a family comprised of fellow outcasts, each of whom possesses their own unique gifts. Together they have executed a string of carefully planned thefts, robbing the Order’s spoiled membership of a variety of artifacts. As a group, they possess a significant skill set: Séverin is the master planner (visions of a George Clooney as Danny Ocean came to mind), Enrique is the historian who immerses himself in researching their prizes, Zofia is an engineer/inventive genius flirting with a death wish, Laila is a beguiling dancer who mesmerizes as a Moulin Rouge-type celebrity and can easily inhabit a multitude of roles, and quiet Tristan, Séverin’s foster brother, is a creator of biological beauties and poisons who serves as a silent secret weapon. These angry, once abandoned, and all wholly misunderstood teens appear to be a finely tuned machine who execute the most dangerous of plans with ease. The truth is, two of them are in love, a third is attracted to a fourth but also may be attracted to someone else, the fourth is tentatively willing to entertain an attraction but also terrified by what it represents, and a fifth is just plain terrified. Throw a member of the Order with a complicated connection to Séverin into this mix, and there appears to be no time for any kind of treasure hunting. All that tension nicely simmers along as the plot takes off, and who will do what and when and with who is just part of what elevates this delectable literary confection.
More than all of this, more than the crackerjack clue-following and the lush descriptions of the city and the sheer joyful inventiveness of Chokshi’s world-building, it is the blending of so many complex origin stories, so many diverse (yes, DIVERSE) backgrounds, that sends The Gilded Wolves soaring. Séverin and his friends are complicated individuals who bring such varied perspectives on race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality, and even humanity to the story that readers will find themselves torn between who they identify with the most. Just as Sarah Rees Brennan blended a broad gathering of teen perspectives into the 2017 fantasy knockout In Other Lands, so does Chokshi with her wickedly clever and utterly stylish Scooby Gang. The Gilded Wolves is a storytelling tour-de-force, and I can’t wait to return to Paris for the next chapter in this scintillating series.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the April 2019 issue of Locus.
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