Paris has survived the Great Magicians War – just. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens continue to live, love, fight and survive in their war-torn city, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over the once grand capital.
My ‘to read’ pile is getting gradually smaller, ready to grow again once I have a chance to nip home and grab some exciting parcels that have been waiting for me for quite some time (watch this space). This book has been in that pile for longer than I would like to confess. How I never got round to reading it is beyond me, look at that back cover blurb!
I have a soft spot in my heart for Paris, not for the romantic Paris that is so often depicted in trashy romantic comedies, but for the gritty kind of beauty it possesses and the history that seeps into every nook and cranny. This is the first book set in Paris that I’ve found to really capture the darkness of the city, and a fantasy novel at that! I know Isle de la Cité reasonably well so the fact that so much of the action takes place there allowed me to really immerse myself in the situation.
But the setting is not just Paris. It’s a Paris of an alternate world, where a long ‘finished’ war between magicians has rendered the world polluted and damaged (no doubt drawing inspiration from the aftermath of World War One and Two) where fallen angels walk the earth, taking part in mortal events. Where Paris is divided into factions, into houses who are simultaneously at peace and constantly vying for the power that the others possess.
The back cover also describes this as a murder mystery, which I would say is selling the book short. It has all the scene setting of a marvellous fantasy novel, it has the action and adventure of a thriller, it has the intrigue and subterfuge of a spy novel as well as having elements of a murder mystery.
The writing is third person, which suits me to a tee as you will know if you’ve read any of my other reviews. We see things from the perspective of multiple characters, Philippe, a mortal turned immortal turned mortal once more, Isabelle, a newly fallen angel, Selene, head of the house of Silverspires where the majority of the action takes place and Madeleine, the alchemist of the house of Silverspires who is holding both grief and secrets closely to her chest.
These characters are all complex individuals who are brought to life with the utmost skill. None of them are obviously the hero/heroine and neither are they villains. Rather they are real people brought to life in a fantastical setting.
With curses, mystery, action, intrigue and adventure mixed together it would be easy for this book to be a total shambles. But Aliette De Bodard is a talented writer who somehow manages to hold it all together.
I will say that this book takes some time to get in to, but once you establish who the important characters are it is easy to get swept along in the plot. The other thing I might mention is that my edition (the paperback version) the print is incredibly small so if you’re like me and you like to read in the evening, or if you just have less than optimal eyesight you might want to search for an ebook version or ensure that you have a really powerful reading light at hand.
My rating: 4.5/5
Did you read this? Are you planning on doing so? Let me know what you thought in the comments below, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.