Goodreads: The Gilded Wolves
Series: The Gilded Wolves #1
Published: January 15, 2019
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.
When I read Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen, I thought it was alright, but I was blown away by the companion book A Crown of Wishes, and it was that beautiful writing and intricate plot that convinced me it would be worthwhile to read The Gilded Wolves. I believed that, after her debut novel, Chokshi finally had the experience to step up her writing game and blow me away, much as Leigh Bardugo’s work massively improved between the first Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. Unfortunately, The Gilded Wolves did not live up to my expectations. Confusing world-building, flat characters, and unclear stakes made this heist novel rather boring for me,
The novel is set in Victorian Paris, but in an alternate history were magic exists. It’s called Forging and is somehow related to Babel Rings that House patriarchs wield and guard and also to Babel Fragments, which are hidden across the world. People think that joining the Babel Fragments to make a whole would be bad. That’s my basic understanding of the magic system, but for the most part I was confused. The heist in the book involves going after certain artifacts related to the Babel Fragments, but I honestly was unclear for the entire book what exactly the heist was supposed to accomplish and why the characters were involved in it. Not understanding the fundamental premise of the book definitely made it harder to enjoy. Maybe this is a personal fault, and if I reread it again slowly I’d understand it, but I’ve seen other readers complain they had no idea what was going on either.
I also simply did not enjoy the characters. They’ve been compared to the Six of Crows characters, which is partially true. The crew leader does have elements of Kaz with his troubled past surrounding his family, and there is a courtesan girl who enjoys baked goods. However, my main issue with the characters is that they seemed like cardboard cutouts. The author obviously tried really hard to make them complex, but they never read as real to me. Even their dialogue was stilted, and their banter was flat, and overall I thought they had exactly zero chemistry as a team.
Here’s just one example of a quote that struck me as something that no one would actually say, particularly in a casual conversation:
“Taste that?” she whispered. “There’s zested yuku from the orchards, instead of lemon rind, and vanilla bean, instead of only vanilla extract. The glaze is hibiscus jam I made myself. Not some boring apricot. What do you think? Doesn’t it taste like a dream?”
This might not be the best example from the book, but it’s a really awkward way for someone to tell their friend they just baked something and they want them to taste it.
I also didn’t think the characters faced any real difficulties, which is a problem in a heist novel where I want to believe that the characters are 1) actually badass characters doing the impossible and 2) occasionally actually in danger. I think the magic system plays into everything being relatively simple for the characters, or just not taking any skill that the readers can see. There’s a magic object for practically everything? Need to be sneaky? You ring a magic silencing bell that silences your footsteps. Then you smear some powder over your shirt that makes you look like the wallpaper. No actual badass thievery skills involved. Have a rare magical item that is useful but too small? No problem: replicate it immediately. Zofia, the engineer of the team, frequently talks about how “Item A should not be able to do X, but she modified it, so now it does exactly what she wants.” The wildest point, however, might be the scene where the crew leader has his historian trying to figure out a magical artifact and tells him that it’s been four hours, so if he didn’t figure out its secret, there clearly is no secret. FOUR HOURS is all it takes to solve a rare historical puzzle? In real life, someone could take weeks, months, or years pondering something like this. These characters just don’t struggle, and it takes away tension from the book.
The book has some high points. It’s interesting enough I decided to finish it instead of DNF’ing. It has a diverse cast of characters. It tries to be a cool heist novel, and it tries to be complex. I’m giving it three stars, which is basically my “Meh, it’s ok” rating, but I’m also uninvested enough in the story that I don’t plan to read the sequel.