History is a myth shaped by the tongues of conquerors. What appears good may eventually sour and curdle in our collective minds. What appears bad may later bloom and brighten.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a harder time rating a book than I had with Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves. And a big reason for this lies within how deeply involved and amazing the overall commentary was. And while there may have been a number of confusing and underdeveloped plot points and some questionable decisions, to fault the book wholly for those while also acknowledging how exceptional some of it was is disingenuous. Thus, upon finishing this book, I found myself somewhat at a loss for how to truly convey the impression it left on me.
And, if truth be told, I’m still at a loss.
If I were judging this book solely on the characters, it would probably be a solid four. There’s a lot of depth and heart to the wonderful people we’re introduced to. You can feel how real these characters are in a truly visceral way. The sheer thought that went into their development and the connection they have was, quite frankly exceptional. It wasn’t the most amazing that I’ve ever seen, but it was definitely great.
I cannot express enough how amazing Tristan was as a character. Of everyone, I loved him the most. This slightly innocent but thoroughly damaged boy was was a beautiful mess. He was the kid of the bunch, the one everyone wrote off and wanted to protect all at once. His child-esque persona really grabbed your heart and held onto it.
Zofia was probably the second best character, one of the first brilliant representations of an autistic character I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Now, I will perorate this with the statement that I am not the one to determine whether this was accurate or impressive rep as I, myself, am not autistic. That said, I did find it impressive.
Of the others, I loved each of them and found them impressive in their own ways, though perhaps not nearly as much as the other two. In order of most to least impressive we have Laila, who has one of the most intriguing backstories I’ve ever seen, then Séveren and finally Hypnos. Though both amazing and lovable in their own ways, Séveren and Hypnos were just very typical. I’ve seen them before.
Where it gets shaky:
I was very back and forth about how I felt regarding both the world-building and the plot. Both had their extremely exceptional moments, to the point that this book could potentially been a five star read. But they both also had some low moments, mostly steeped in poorly explained concepts and rushed decisions.
Honestly, this really exists mainly with the world-building. For such a fantastic idea, everything was unfortunately quite confusing. And it truly wouldn’t have taken much, I don’t think, to explain it all a little better. I read this whole book and I still find the babel fragments and the concept of forging confusing. In some instances, maybe I would write this off as being subjective. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who thought this way.
Not by a long shot.
And that’s a problem.
One of those rushed decisions, the final twist for those who have read the novel tied in with the lack of necessity for the third ring, made at least half of the novel’s overall plot feel very pointless.
It’s really difficult to speak of this point without bringing up spoilers. Thus I will simply say this: negating the purpose of events is really damning to your novel. What’s really frustrating about this fact is that Chokshi doesn’t do it just once. She does it twice. First there’s this moment in which a character takes something of value in order to get the main characters to trade something of value for its safety. Turns out, though, that this person didn’t even need said item for his plans.
So, what the hell was the point of that in the first place?
Then, the entire plot revolved around retrieving said valuable results in valuable being permanently lost later on. And I just…why? What should have been a purposeful and heartbreak evoking moment only served to annoy and anger me. Believe me when I say this is not the reaction you want to get for a moment like that.
And then, instead of fully getting an ending, we got a bunch of flash forward moments meant to tie some of it together and then set up for book two. And, in a sense, I do get why this was implemented that way–it kind of ties in line with how grief feels–but when the grief felt somewhat contrived, it just doesn’t work as well as you want it to. Ultimately, I just didn’t like it.
Here’s the thing: this book had some problems. But when I think back on its overall message and the story threads that Chokshi weaved in order to bring it all together, I don’t really care all that much. And sure, I can say that some things felt confusing and others felt contrived. I can also say that I didn’t feel as strong an emotional connection to the characters and their grief that I think I should have (this is perhaps my biggest problem with the novel). But, when I think back to the intricate pieces included in the whole of it, I can still step back and say this is an incredibly impressive novel.
I did not like it as much as I wanted to. In fact, I’m sure I will put this back on the shelf and never pick it up again. It did not evoke the emotions that it should have as far as characters go. But as a commentary? Damn, did Chokshi nail it.