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In a post-apocalyptic Paris ravaged by a spiritual war that's gone all flesh and blood, two members of a street gang find a newly materialized fallen angel, pull out knives, and start cutting off her fingers. Angel essence gives a magical high like nothing else, and is worth a lot on the street. It's a brutal opening -- one of the most arresting I've read this year. Unfortunately, it sets a bar the rest of the book just can't reach again.
This story has everything I could hope for -- fallen angels warring with rival houses in a post-apocalyptic Paris, drug addicted magicians, a mysterious curse leveled against one of the houses, and a Buddhist stuck in the middle of it all. For example: Morningstar used to lead one of the houses, but he disappeared 20 years ago, and many of the characters are still haunted by their experiences with him and his charisma. Initially, this seemed like a very interesting riff on an absentee God, but unfortunately it doesn't quite play out that way.
With all these cool and interesting things happening, I was surprised to find how hard it was for me to engage with the characters, which made it difficult for me to be invested in this story. The relationships between some of these characters is crucial in making the narrative work, but unfortunately there wasn't enough there for me to buy their relationships with each other, or invest in them myself. As a result, the motivations and relationships just feel too superficial, and the result is a very dull and slow-moving 14 hours. Additionally, there's a lot of politicking happening in this book, but the characters never felt as politically savvy as we're told they should be. (Politicians don't regularly respond with "You *know* what I mean," do they?)
Whatever faults I can find with the story and characters, I can find no issues with Peter Kenny's narration. Whether he was voicing a naive fallen angel, Lucifer Morningstar, or a homesick Buddhist who is forced to come to terms that home no longer exists, his narration was compelling, even when the story was not.
Despite a pretty brilliant opening, The House of Shattered Wings is unfortunately unable to live up to the promise of miracles. And with a setting and subject matter as fascinating as this, that's an unforgivable sin.
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This book has a fabulous setting -- a war-wrecked Paris ruled by rival clans of fallen angels and their mortal dependents -- and a potentially interesting plot, but the whole is lethally undermined by the weakness of the characters. We are presented with what we are supposed to believe are centuries-old beings with immense magical powers - but they have all the political sophistication and interpersonal skill of a pack of feral 12-year-olds. This could have been an interesting idea to develop -- magical superbeings who are also lethally shortsighted, self-involved and stupid (almost comically so at times) but the book doesn't appear to realise how dumb its characters are. If the intended audience is 12-year-olds they might enjoy it - for adults, it's a frustrating read.