The Gilded Wolves has everything I could possibly want. It’s perfect on paper, but just didn’t work for me. Three stars for an interesting but convoluted tale of colonialism and identity.
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.
I really thought this was going to be a five-star read for me. I loved what Roshani Chokshi had to say about the book on Sarah Enni’s First Draft podcast, and Gilded Wolves seemed custom-made for me (heists! found families! actual interrogation of history! art! secrets! historical fantasy!).
I can’t deny that this is a well-spun story and I completely understand the hype–hence the three stars. Unfortunately, I just didn’t enjoy it.
I wish I could dissect this book with brilliant literary analysis and a logical breakdown of what went wrong. That’s what I should be writing, but I have few intelligent thoughts on this book. It’s perfect on paper, but in completely subjective ways, it didn’t work for me.
For a book with such a fascinating premise, The Gilded Wolves was surprisingly forgettable. I read this book about a month ago (not ideal for review-writing, of course) and I’ve retained very few details of the setting and plot. The magic system made for a great metaphor, but was so convoluted that I stopped trying to follow all the details halfway through.
I usually didn’t care about the puzzles and mysteries, which were solved with dependable regularity. When I was invested, I found it predictable (particularly the two major events/reveals in the last few chapters, which were strikingly formulaic).
I understand the attraction of the little troupe of misfits–they’re diverse, tragic little cinnamon rolls. But by the end, I was mostly irritated by the forced lovability. It felt like the book was demanding I love these characters instead of telling me a story, and I don’t respond well to that. Again, this is extremely subjective–I ate up the gang in Six of Crows, which is built on the same mechanics. But I never understood why these characters were in the same story. They developed so little, and always along individual tracks–rarely by interacting with each other.
Speaking of Six of Crows, I know that many people are tired of this comparison, but it’s hard to avoid putting this aside the most popular YA fantasy ensemble dramady heist.
The Gilded Wolves is reaching for ideas a little beyond the scope of Six of Crows. Leigh Bardugo is shackled to the limiting worldbuilding of the Grishaverse, which was weakest in drawing secondary nations flimsily built on real-life ethnic stereotypes.SOC could never have attempted the critique of colonialism accomplished by TGW. For this reason, and the inclusion of older, more experienced characters, TGW is a significantly more sophisticated novel than SOC, which I appreciate (though it doesn’t make it inherently better).
On the other hand, the two books fall into some of the same traps. Despite having a rich, diverse cast of characters to draw on, both stories anchor their ensembles to a central straight white boy, which has started to wear on me the more I see it. There’s nothing wrong with a particular book having that MC, but in a story about marginalization and identity and imperialism, it’s irritating that Severin’s loss of a degree of privilege is held up as the book’s central tragedy.