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.
Genre: YA Fantasy; Historical
Page count: 388 (Hardcover version), 400 (Kindle version)
As always, I have a mean confession to make: I started this book because of the pretty cover.
(And also because of the sequel that I’ve got my hands on but shh, that is a secret no one has to find out).
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi is, what we call in Romanian, a struțocămilă. That means the book is an ostrichcamel.
JK. It means it is a weird mixture of things – a hybrid, if you want me not to me so plastic in expression. I can’t seem to remember the word in English to express the same energy the word struțocămilă has, but I know that there is such a word and if you are kind enough to share the knowledge with me I’d be grateful.
Now coming back to my ostrichcamel theory, I just want to say that this book is an interesting mixture of childish action and brilliant information that I somehow love-hated. Maybe hate is a too strong word. Maybe I’ll replace that with „didn’t like”. So, I didn’t like the fact that even though the action is omnipresent, it was a bit confusing because of the writing style and also childish if you look from a more elaborated point of view. But I did like it because even though the action was so simple, it was packed with a more complex way of thinking and with very accurate historical and mathematical facts that in some ways blew my mind. Even though, let’s say, these historical facts were brought to a lower level than they were originally. I think that’s a positive trait too because you take a myth and you do with it what your imagination pleases. You go, Ms Chokshi!
„Don’t capture their hearts. Steal their imagination. It’s far more useful.”
In fact, I do agree with that because it seems like this book’s basis. There is an interesting mixture, as I said, of facts and actions that make more use of the imagination of a reader than of their wonder.
The mathematical logic of this book seems to be flawless, but this is my personal opinion, as a maths-scared kid that has no idea how numbers work. You can elaborate on the theory that 2+2=3.45 and give me three complex-looking arguments and I’ll agree with you and think of you as a genius beyond the complexity of this planet.
But here in this book, every single mathematical phrase seems to be untouchable and infallible and it just impresses me how much maths surround us and how well it explains paranormal-looking things. I haven’t believed my 5th-grade maths teacher when he told us this, but now I do, please forgive my disbelief, Mr S.!
Okay, I would love to dissect all the fun maths facts in this book but sadly I can’t remember them properly enough so let’s assume that they are indeed fabulous and you believe me saying it and move on.
Historical facts, huh? Okay, let’s see what kind of myths, symbols and legends are being broken down here.
First of all, there is a constant symbol of the Eye of Horus, which is a pretty common symbol in Egyptian mythology. It is an eye of truth. The eye that sees everything and protects everything. Only but here the Egyptian symbolism is tangled with the great biblical legend of the Babel Tower, the one tower people tried to build to reach the sky and therefore reach the knowledge of God Himself. Only but God didn’t want some greedy humans to raise to the power of that Knowledge so in order to prevent them from building the tower higher and higher he tangled their tongues and mixed their languages so they won’t be able to finish their work because they could not understand each other. A pretty simple story that explains how come our languages are so different.
„God made us in His image. Are we not gods, then?”
This myth of the Babel Tower together with the symbol of an Eye of Horus is brought into a secret society thingy that tries to protect that very Babel myth. The Eye of Horus holds the sight of fragments from the Tower.
Quite tangled huh? Dare I say all this happens in 19th century France or shouldn’t I bring it to you like that?
Apart from the Eyes of Horus and Babel Towers, there are also some very interesting other myths and legends brought to the knowledge of the public such as:
- The symbol of the honeybee and how is it seen around various cultures (such as the Hindu belief and also the North African one);
- The legend of Ammit, the sin eater, a lion-hypo-crocodile from the Egyptian mythology though to be a scary and reckless creature, but here it has such an interesting role to play that just amazes me;
- Napoleon the Third, a true legend, has his own place in this book so another weird mixture very interestingly put.
And the list goes on.
Pretty interesting so far, don’t you think?
Another interesting thing is the composure of the characters. Every single one of them is an outcast with a sad or even terrifying background story.
In my opinion, background stories must be solid in order to generate that impression of verity. A character with a poor background story has no excuse for its present actions. But here it is not the case. All the characters are well anchored both in the present and also in the past and this makes them somehow real in an unreal world.
„You are real, my girl, for you are loved.”
The best part about them though is not their stories, but the cultural diversity that links them together. It is so heart-warming to read about a homogeneous cultural group of outcasts; don’t you think?
Let’s break them down like this if you don’t believe me and let’s count:
- Séverin: the leader of the group, the heir of House Vanth, stripped from his title because of his origins – he was half French and half Algerian;
- Tristan: Séverin’s brother in soul if not in blood, a weird boy with a passion for plants and tarantulas;
- Laila: a marvellous, gorgeous and fabulous Indian girl with a terrifying story and an equally terrifying power in the palms of her hands, Séverin’s love interest and tbh mine too because she is a QUEEN;
- Zofia: a Jewish-Polish introverted genius who’s smarter than most of the people on the planet but has severe issues with expressing her feelings; to be completely honest, I somehow affiliate with Zofia and that makes her character a bit easier for me to handle;
- Hypnos: the rightful heir of House Nyx, a half French, half black Haitian drama queen with a great sense of fashion and also of humour that I’ve come to love, love, love!
- Enrique: the Spanish-Filipino historian of the group, with a wicked sense of humour and a brilliant mind who also appears to be bisexual which makes my ship-o-meter explode because I don’t know with whom do I ship him more!
Completely honest now, I wasn’t expecting them to be so diverse and so gorgeous together, but here they are. And I’d love for you to agree with me.
Unity in diversity says a well-known motto and this book seems to be all about it. After all, how can one plan world domination without the help of those who share the same intrinsic desire?
„But first, where’s the wine? I can’t discuss the end of civilisation without wine.”