No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.
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.
Warnings: child abuse, racism
I know this book gets compared to Six of Crows but honestly, the only thing common between them is a heist in a fantasy setting. The Gilded Wolves is set in an alternate historical setting, during the 19th century, and the powerful Order is made up of families who possess gifts, and they all protect the Babel fragments (yes, that Babel) that keep the magic in the world. Severin is the scion of a destroyed House, and he has been denied his inheritance as the leader of his House. He has been, with the help of his friends, collecting treasures, and now, through a mission from the Order, he has a chance to get it all back, along with his position.
He wished he didn’t know what he had lost. Maybe then every day wouldn’t feel like this. As if he had once known how to fly, but the skies had shaken him loose and left him with nothing but the memory of wings.
Now, the world-building of The Gilded Wolves is a little convoluted: there are people who have their own forging power, thanks to the existence of Babel fragments in the world, but there are also these Houses, that don’t have their own forging power, but they have magical objects and so they have magical power; the latter’s magical skills are way more complex and honestly anything goes, so I don’t really see how the forging and their magic exist logically, but I took it in stride. It delves into topics of colonialism and racism, albeit a little differently in this world changed by magic. What’s more interesting about the book is the puzzle, the heist, the unveiling of a mystery, and these awesome characters, who each have different things going on besides the main plot.
When you are who they expect you to be, they never look too closely. If you’re furious, let it be fuel.
For instance, Tristan is like a brother to Severin, and they have a common upbringing with a series of foster families that mistreated them, and now Severin takes care of him. Tristan is a genius who forges exquisite gardens and is in high demand and Severin runs a hotel, where Laila also works in-between their missions. She is searching for a book of magic that explains her, uh, current body and Severin has pledged to help her with that search; they also have this romance where they circle each other, after a one-night fling in the past, neither of them ready to admit their feelings. Enrique is a historian but is also involved in political issues and activism, while Zofia dropped out from some Forger academy and works for Severin now. They all are professionally linked due to their heisting together, but they also have a found family dynamic and often tease each other. I honestly loved Laila with Zofia, baking the latter’s favorite treats, or with Tristan, scolding him about his pet spider!
Enrique shuddered. “Honestly. Who looks at a vase covered in bull testicles and says, ‘You. I must have you.’?” “The bored, the rich, and the enigmatic.” Enrique sighed. “All my life aspirations.”
The ending was, to be blunt, quite confusing to me, considering I was not even properly caught up on the world-building by then. More importantly, the fact that I read this as an audiobook worked against the book. The narrator for the male voices, P J Ochlan, had a distinctive style for reading – when he said the dialogues, it was normal, but reading the prose lines in between, he went into ‘movie trailer mode’ (you know how the narrator in movie trailers has that particular cadence? it was like that, for all of his part). The other narrator, Laurie Catherine Winkel, who voices Zofia, and more importantly, Laila, who is of Indian origin, makes errors for nearly all the Hindi words used in the novel, like jaadugaar (it should be jaadugar, btw *side eyes*) or even the counting of the beats of the dance Laila does later in the novel. It just grated on my ears to hear it these words pronounced wrong every single time. It is not that hard to get the correct pronunciation from a native speaker, especially when said character is a native speaker! It feels especially wrong when the French accent is delivered believably enough throughout the book, but no effort is put towards pronouncing the few Hindi words.
So, yeah, avoid the audiobook edition if you can, but otherwise, in text editions, its definitely recommended!
Is it diverse? yes, there are diverse main characters – Severin is biracial, Enrique is bisexual and biracial Spanish-Filipino, Laila is Indian, Zofia is autistic; Hypnos, a secondary character is biracial and bisexual