It is almost pleasant, at first, to be Falling.
–Aliette de Bodard - The house of shattered wings - c.2015
Once one of the most powerful Houses in Paris Silverspires is in decline. Its founder, Morningstar, is missing. Selene, his last pupil, has taken over. For years she has led the House, protected it and its dependents and schemed and plotted on its behalf. Since the end of The Great War that is all the houses do, scheme and plot and pull at one another. No body wants an outright war, the Great War destroyed too much, contaminated too much, but every one is still locked in a struggle to survive, to stay on top.
Into this atmosphere of constant political scheming comes Philippe and Isabelle. He has lived in Paris since leaving his Vietnamese homeland, he has fought for the houses, against his will. He knows what they are capable of and wants nothing to do with them. Instead he has survived out among the gangs of Paris, where might makes right. Isabelle is newly Fallen. Full of power but so vulnerable until she learns control and skill. And in a world where Fallen blood and bones can be turned into magic power boosters she needs the protection and guidance of a House.
I first came across de Bodard when I read Obsidian and Blood, a collection of her Aztec stories. And I thoroughly enjoyed them. Since then she has written many fascinating short stories and you should probably go check them out if you haven’t read any already. She has a wonderful way of writing, I could read her all day long.
Unfortunately I started reading this book when I didn’t have the time, and so was only able to read a chapter or so a day for a while. Once I got a bit of free time however I devoured it, and I think it is a book that I would reread. I loved the world that de Bodard has created here. It is a world without and good choices, just the least worst. All of the main characters struggle with this, and the world in which they live where survival is such a struggle. In order to survive you must seize and keep power. And being in power means that you must take that power away from someone else.
Philippe, and that is not his real Viet name, is introduced to us when he is at the bottom of the pile. Exiled from his home, with no real supports in Paris, an outsider with no power. But is he really that powerless?
In order to live Isabelle must ally herself with a House, but the Houses are inextricably linked to corruption and ruthlessness. If they had not been so in their past they would have been torn down by the others. To ally herself to that is to become a part of the power struggle and all that entails; torture, betrayal, murder and more.
Isablle and Philippe are linked, but opposed. Philippe is so utterly against the Houses he cannot really understand how anyone can support them.
It is a great way of looking at power dynamics and colonialism and racism and how they are all tied up together. Power corrupts, as we all know, the more power the more corruption… but there is also a look at how the lack of power is just as damaging. If you have no options in your fight for survival are you more open to doing the “wrong thing” because it is the only thing you can do?
I think this is the first book in a trilogy, but it can be read as a standalone novel, if you don’t mind certain aspects being left open to interpretation.