The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
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.
I picked up The Gilded Wolves because I saw it billed as fantasy National Treasure, and, um, YES. However, it ended up being more of a steampunk-aesthetic-magic version of Indiana Jones really. Which again, YES. But I just wanted … more.
I wanted more magic. The entire system of forging is completely unique and totally interesting, but Chokshi never really bothers to do much explaining. I wanted to know more about how it worked, why some people can use it and others can’t, what all you can do with it, why there are different factions, and ALL THE STUFF. Instead it essentially functioned as a way to get this historical setting filled with advanced technologies. It was a plot device, nothing more. Sad.
I wanted more from the characters. I loved the diversity represented, especially Zofia who is probably on the autism spectrum, and Tristan, who is dealing with ptsd or something similar related to childhood trauma. It was so amazing to see such positive representation in these characters, and I especially appreciated how the other characters start by not liking Zofia and realize through the course of the book that they were closed-minded and wrong.
Maybe part of the problem was that there are a lot of POVs in this book. Each character is unique and interesting, however, they didn’t really have their own voices, and they didn’t develop over the course of the novel. I never really got to the point where I cared about them or connected with them.
I wanted more from the writing. There. I said it. I’ve seen so many glowing reviews about how brilliant the writing is, so I guess it’s just a taste thing. But to me the whole thing came off as cheesy. The banter, in particular, I was not a fan of. I adore good banter, and this was not it.
I wanted more romance. Y’all, I am all in on will-they-won’t-they, but in this particular case I found it exasperating. The characters in question had really great chemistry, and I looked forward to reading their scenes. But I didn’t find their reasons for not being together compelling or convincing.
Finally, I wanted more puzzles! National Treasure, The DaVinci Code, that stuff is my JAM. I love when a book (or movie…) presents me with a puzzle to solve along with the character! Especially if said puzzle leads me on the next phase of a treasure hunt. Yes to treasure hunts. But this book was NOT that. There were a couple puzzles, but I solved them all (which is REALLY saying something, friends) and they weren’t the driving force behind the plot. This ended up being more of a heist story than a treasure hunt. Which, again, I am all in for, but it wasn’t really a heist either, it turned into the-all-powerful-magic-user-is-about-to-break-magic-and-only-we-can-stop-them trope. Maybe there was just too much going on and it felt unfocused to me.
Also, I didn’t care for the ending. There was a solid 75 pages of additional exposition and “character development” after the climax. Except… nothing happened and nobody developed really. Meh.
Overall, The Gilded Wolves had elements that I enjoyed. It just wasn’t able to bring it all together to pack the powerful punch I was hoping to get from this outstanding concept.