“When it comes to THE GILDED WOLVES, think Ocean’s Eleven meets The Davinci Code, with a dash of National Treasure.”
You lot know by now how much I overuse the phrase ‘inject it’, so if I got a quid everytime I said it during this book I still wouldn’t use it to pay back my student loans. YA heist books are a lot of me, especially when it’s got fun riddles included in it. When it comes to THE GILDED WOLVES, think Ocean’s Eleven meets The Davinci Code, with a dash of National Treasure. The way I was ready to shot this book down like a jagerbomb was no joke.
It’s not often that I get convinced to read books with lots of history, especially when it includes colonisers; yet here our author – Roshani Chokshi – has me giving a shit about 1880’s Paris. Bringing readers a cast of technicolour characters that are all individually spectacular and entertaining, with incredible chemistry as a group that work so well together.
THE GILDED WOLVES takes place swiftly after the abolition of slavery, and Chokshi never sugar coats the fact that it’s not really over, with mentions of human zoos and with white Parisians using terms for Black and North African that we know very well are racist. It’s nothing too triggering, but Chokshi is authentic with her depiction of Paris within that time, never glossing over it nor erasing it to paint a false narrative.
With the setting of Paris comes elements of fantasy, and Chokshi expertly weaves in concepts of magic and fantastical science to the historical facts that surround Paris within that time. It’s so effortless that my dumbass would fully believe you if you told me that all of this was true, because Chokshi’s talent lies in intricate details that never feel convoluted yet consistently come across as well researched.
“I’m thrown back to the days when tumblr stans would call endearing characters cinnamon buns too good for this world. That’s Tristan.”
With the setting of Paris comes the Order of Babel; an elite organisation with three branches of powerful families, all of which hold special abilities known as Forging. Interestingly enough these abilities contain scientific elements, as well as links to stories originating from the Tower of Babel. It’s never heavy on religion, and in fact is only mentioned in passing, but the real and factual origins that Chokshi uses as the foundation for magic make it all the more convincing.
Our protagonist, Severin, is a thief and hotelier born from a french father and algerian mother. He is also the sole heir to House of Vanth, a now dead branch of the Order due to denying Severin his inheritance. Determined to claim what is rightfully his, Severin accepts the job of locating and stealing the Eye of Horus; an ancient egyptian object that can reveal the location of the Babel fragments. To do this Severin recruits his team at the hotel.
Laila, an indian dancer who performs under the alias L’Enigme, as well as the team’s pastry chef. This hottie is equal parts feisty seductress and protective mother of the team. Due to the dark origins of her birth, Laila is able to see the history of an object just by touching it, as well as the memories of their previous owner. Not to mention she has some mad sexual tension with Severin, it actually almost pissed me off how sizzling it gets only to deliberately not deliver. Go on girl, give us nothing!
Then there’s the softest cutie in the world; Tristan. I’m thrown back to the days when tumblr stans would call endearing characters cinnamon buns too good for this world. That’s Tristan. Severin’s brother in everything but blood, and holds a Forging ability with liquid matter in plants, making him able to manipulate the production of plants as well as concuting weird poisons and potions with them. This also makes him a lover of nature and insectings; in particular a lover of his pet tarantula Goliath. That’s his fatal flaw, I ain’t about having pet spiders. You are actually mad to think that’s normal, argue with your mother readers.
“Hypnos’ humour is unlike any other, with one liners that often leave you cackling and is unapologetic in his queerness.”
One of my personal favourite members is Enrique; my bisexual king. Born to a spanish father and filipino mother, and because of his features favouring his spanish parent is not accepted into the filipino revolutionary group. As a well educated historian Enrique is one of the smartest in the group, and a trusted companion to Severin. Enrique is the perfect balance of snarky and quick witted, never coming across too arrogant. His aim to help restore Severin to his rightful position of leader of House Vanth would also elevate his status enough to be accepted into the revolutionary group.
Because Chokshi is effortless in creating a wide expanse of multifaceted characters, we are also gifted Zofia. A polish and jewish engineer who Chokshi alludes to being on the autism spectrum. Zofia is particularly close to Laila and Severin, though her perception of social situations has her comically clashing with Enrique often. His humour with her deadpan and at times deadpan remarks makes for an entertaining duo, who work well as a team. Zofia is smart, and exceptional when it comes to understanding maths and puzzles, which is enhanced with her ability for Forging metals and fire.
And, saving the best for last, is the spectacularly chaotic and fine Hypnos. Born to a former Haitain slave, and the patriarch of House Nyx, he is considered an illegitimate son and heir to the family. Beating Severin in being recognised by the Order, and allowed to claim his title. Though living in wealth, it is constricting, and holds an old childhood friendship and rivalry with Severin. He is also the man who propositions Severin with the heist we are all dying to read about. Hypnos’ humour is unlike any other, with one liners that often leave you cackling and is unapologetic in his queerness. He’s also a shameless flirt with everyone.
We absolutely love to see it.
“If I’ve learned anything from Chokshi’s writing here, it’s that I need to read every other book she’s written as ASAP as possible.”
Chokshi writes in four third-person narratives, allowing the readers to become comfortably acquainted with all the characters equally. The best part about this is how she shows how close members are with each other outside of their links to Severin. The novel never feels like it’s built around our protagonist, and instead each character holds their own, with in-depth original storylines that make them the heroes of their own story, while working as a team and family. The development and integration of Hypnos’ part makes it feel new and easy for readers to settle in, watching our favourite king fit like a glove.
As the plot unravels, Chokshi litters through it several riddles and puzzles that lead to the fragments of Babel, which is where the comparisons to The Davinci Code and National Treasure become relevant. I won’t lie, I don’t know what any of them fucking meant, and if the members hadn’t solved it I probably still wouldn’t. You will never see me attempt a crossword puzzle, let alone decipher a latin riddle.
Each ability of the Wolves is utilised in different tasks, both individually and as a team. Making it incredibly fun to unravel along with them as they develop as characters, reaching both their own and individual goals. The romance remains relatively low on the list of priorities for Chokshi, which you know, pisses me off – cause I am a whore for romantic ships – but is obviously realistic when you’re trying to focus on not dying and winning back your fortune. I’m still bitter about it though.
However, if I’ve learned anything from Chokshi’s writing here, it’s that I need to read every other book she’s written as ASAP as possible.
Soraya Bouazzaoui is Aurelia’s Literal Hotties columnist which whilst never giving too much away, focuses on reviews and recommendations of titles by women of colour, both fiction and non-fiction. @halalltakeaway
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