Reviewing Hell: The House of Shattered Wings (2015) by Aliette de Bodard

Depending on how you look at it, the recent boom in Urban Fantasy has either been great for Hell literature or problematic. Urban Fantasy started by putting your standard monsters (vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc.) into a present-day setting, often complete with noir trappings and detective plots. As vampires became overused, authors moved on to more exotic creatures, and it wasn’t long before demons and angels joined the fray. This led to an absolute explosion of devilish works. Everything is good, right?

Well, Urban Fantasy thrives by putting the extraordinary into the ordinary, and this has the capacity to diminish the impact of devils, demons, and Hell. If your standard wizard can banish a devil, how impressive are devils? This is why Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings is an interesting and unique take on the genre.

Set-Up: House of Shattered Wings is halfway between a Post-Apocalyptic and an Urban Fantasy novel. It takes place in a ruined Paris where “the Fallen” have taken over. These fallen angels rule by a series of houses, and our book brings us into their power struggles. Lucifer is missing from House Silverspires, and it’s up to our characters to make sense of that. de Bodard’s set-up is thus pretty original: we get a real world setting (Paris), fallen angels, and a nice “everything is ruined” twist. 8/10.

Scope: One of the most intriguing parts of House is that it hints at a broader scope: we have an important character from Vietnam, and he seems to be from that mythology, hinting at a broader range of creatures than just Christian angels. We don’t really get to see those up close and personal (sequel?). In terms of this book, we have a good scope through Paris, but not necessarily the vision of Heaven and Hell you might want from this genre. They spend much of this book looking for for Lucifer, but more as the leader of Silverspires than the lord of the underworld. 7/10.

Horror: Urban Fantasy isn’t really a horror genre. You may have lots of monsters monsters, but the point isn’t cosmic terror. In fact, the opposite often happens, with the monsters being easily controlled. I think this book avoids that trap, and between the ruined city and the fallen angels, we’ve got a nice threat of metaphysical terror running through. 7/10.

Originality: de Bodard deserves high praise here: this is one of the most unusual and original fallen angel stories ever written. Who would think of a ruined Paris filled with the fallen? 10/10.

Enjoyability: I liked the book, but I wanted to love it. Maybe too much is going: mystery, post-apocalypse, angels, house politics, different POVs, drug use, etc. That’s a lot to cram into 300 or so pages, and I think the book suffered for that. When you take risks as an author, you can lose some of the smoothness of the narrative. Maybe de Bodard can patch that up in the sequel. 7/10.

Total: 39/50. A unique take on the Fallen, and a solid contribution to the literature of the afterlife.

Other Takes:
This book has kicked up a lot of interest on WordPress, with other bloggers really liking what de Bodard has done here and others a little more measured:
Read at Midnight
Intellectus Speculativus
SF Bluestocking
Outside of Dogs

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