I love heists. There, I've said it. There's something about watching a band of misfits and/or people with highly specialized skills executing a plan that fills me with glee. So when I heard about THE GILDED WOLVES and its promise of a magical heist, the book instantly went on my TBR list. I am pleased to report that this is an excellent tale with puzzles and thrills galore, though the last few pages of the book left me with mixed feelings.
Séverin is the 18-year-old proprietor of L'Eden, an exclusive hotel in nineteenth century Paris. He's also the last heir to House Vanth, one of the three prestigious families of France entrusted with guarding an incredibly powerful artifact known as a Babel Fragment. Or at least, Séverin was the last heir until a decade ago, when the other houses, determined to control the number of mixed-race members in their ruling body, falsified the results of his magical paternity test, disenfranchising him from his ruling status and his access to all magical items. Since then, Séverin has collected together a band of misfits, both magical and non-magical, and uses their talents to "acquire" artifacts from the remaining houses. But when he's approached to steal an item connected to the Babel Fragment in return for being reinstated as the head of House Vanth, Séverin will have to pull off his most daring heist yet - and failure could have deadly consequences for his team.
When the book opens, Séverin is in the middle of heist, which ends up not quiiite going according to plan. It's a set piece that introduces you not only to part of the group, but to the magic as well. The magic in this book, called Forging, is what some might call a "light magic system," in that we don't get an in-depth explanation of how it works, just that it does. Some characters in this world have a gift for either mind or matter Forging, able to manipulate certain elements to create masks of ice that never melt, or helmets that force their wearer to live through their worst nightmares. It makes for fantastical and surreal set designs, with the wealthy doing everything they can to make the most wondrous and aesthetically pleasing displays possible. It was a delight to read about the parties and the hotel and picture the outlandish magical creations that greeted the guests.
Roshani Chokshi does an excellent job of dropping you in the middle of an established group of friends and easily bringing you up to speed on the dynamics. Everyone in Séverin's band is an outcast for one reason or another, ranging from skin color to autistic behavior. But it's quickly clear that all of them, at the very least, are used to each other's tics and foibles, and accommodate where they can. In one touching moment, Laila, the group's more fashionable member, reveals to the practical and on-the-spectrum Zofia a handful of wardrobe options to choose from based on Zofia's different needs. One is more comfortable, but might be too asymmetrical for her liking, while another has stitching that Zofia can count if she needs to soothe her nerves. It's moments like this that remind the reader of how much of a found family these characters are, and makes their eventual peril all the more effective.
There were a few small things that held this back from being a perfect read. One is that I occasionally found the action descriptions confusing, causing me to reread a few passages trying to discern if I had missed something. As I was reading an ARC and not a finished copy, this may be something that is cleaned up by release. The other is that the events of the last twenty or so pages, which provide the bridge to the next book, ended up being dissatisfying. While I understand from a story arc perspective why certain things unfolded, it came off a bit like drama for drama's sake, rather than a compelling hook into the next story.
Overall, however, I was incredibly glad to read THE GILDED WOLVES, which was an excellent kick-off to the New Year. I became quickly invested in the characters, which to me is one of the most important things a book can do. It's an imaginative world, and I recommend to anyone who enjoys a band of people up to no good.