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The Gilded Wolves

April 1, 2019

Following the trail of necromancy in books sometimes leads me into bad and ugly places, and Roshani Chokshi’s new YA novel The Gilded Wolves is one of them. In an extremely hackneyed fantasy style, the gilded world of Paris in this alternate version of 1889 appears beautiful but is built on top of the catacombs, where skeletons wait to be awakened.

In addition to an entirely predictable plot with only half-fleshed-out (ha!) characters, this novel features the kinds of puzzles popular in some children’s mystery books (The Egypt Game, Chasing Vermeer, The Mysterious Benedict Society). It must be that the puzzles are included in order to attract young readers who have heard of–for instance–the Fibonacci Sequence, readers who like the idea that knowing what it is will help them become heroes and save a fictional alternate world.

The worldbuilding consists of a mishmash of symbolic artifacts from ancient cultures, phrases from dead languages, and numerology. The magic, called “forging,” is cobbled together from conventional rules. Here’s an explanation of how some of the magic works:
“Thus, the movement of zero to one is the power of God, because out of nothing, something is created. The Babel Fragments are considered slivers of God’s powers. They bring things to life, excluding, of course, the power to bring back the dead and create actual life.”

One of the characters, Laila, was stillborn at birth but put into a new body with a seam up the back of it by an Indian magician called a “jaadugar” who used “an ancient book in a language no longer spoken” to do it. Her quest is to find the book.

Laila is teamed up with a little gang of misfits we’re supposed to love, but whose motivations are not clear to us, despite their specified quests and the background we get on the abusive stepparents of two of them, Tristan and Severin (their seven stepfathers are briefly characterized by the names of the seven deadly sins). To round out the group, there’s a girl who is a mathematical savant and a gay couple.

Not only the puzzles, but also many of the symbols serve an explicitly pedagogical purpose in the novel:
“Bee deities are not uncommon throughout mythology,” said Enrique. “The image you see here is a representation of the Thriae, a triplicate bee goddess—a recurring motif of trinity goddesses—who had the gift of prophecy. The other is a representation of Bhramari, a Hindu goddess of bees. Am I pronouncing that correctly, Laila?”
“It’s Bruh-mah-ree,” she corrected gently.

Laila has the ability to sense things about objects she touches, and when she finally ends up in the middle of a necromancy scheme taking place in the famous catacombs beneath Paris, she gets a very definite feeling that necromancy never pays:
“She could barely stand to look at this place. Even the air offended her. It had the unstirred and cold texture of a sepulcher, and she could feel it frosting her throat with every inhale. As she turned a corner, she saw a child-sized skull and nearly vomited. Everything reeked of a cost to be paid….”

At the climax of the plot, a not-quite-revealed figure that the deluded would-be necromancer mistakenly thinks is going to bestow god-like powers on him is referred to as “the doctor” without any reference to the British TV icon who time-travels in a Tardis.

This mishmash is a mess, and you don’t even get a happy ending for your trouble. At the end, one of the main characters appears to be dead (but is he really?) and Laila and Severin, our erstwhile hetero couple, are estranged. No doubt this is to whet your appetite for the second book, in which the gang will be joining Laila in her quest to find the book of her making.

If you are looking for a good book, don’t look at this one.

I do appreciate that one of the book bloggers in my circles, Jasmine, alerted me to this particular instance of necromancy in fiction.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2019 11:49 am

    Oh yikes, this does sound rather a mess. Such a shame, it sounds like it could have had some interesting potential.

    • April 2, 2019 2:27 pm

      It has all kinds of potential, which is why I read it all the way through and was irritated afterwards.

  2. April 3, 2019 9:57 pm

    I haven’t read The Egypt Game or other books you mentioned so I didn’t realize much if this book is a mess. It was hard for me to get into at first but I’m okay with it later. Any characters you liked though?

    • April 4, 2019 7:30 am

      I thought the characters weren’t fleshed out fully enough–especially Tristan, who I did like and I think we’re supposed to like. I suspect his green thumb and love of growing things will have a bearing on the plot of the second book. Maybe the author is hoping for that adolescent thing where you like someone even though you really don’t know anything about him. Same for Zofia, who obviously had trouble at her school and seems to be autistic. With Severin and Laila, it seemed almost like their love affair was supposed to be the substitute for characterization–like with his turning down the offer of being head of house at the end–it might not be because of anything in himself; maybe it’s because he loves Laila? All of them (most especially Hypno) would be more interesting if they were less mysterious.

      • April 4, 2019 2:25 pm

        Yeah Tristan seems so sensitive when Laila & Severin had to protect him. I thought Zofia is very open with her troubles and insecurities though.

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