My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Thank you, Macmillan, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Wolves were everywhere. In politics, on thrones, in beds. They cut their teeth on history and grew fat on war.
This is probably my last book of the year, and I’m glad to say that it’s one of the best. Since the author is a fellow Filipino, some of my opinions might seem biased, especially those regarding cultural representation. Truth be told, I can’t think of anything negative to say about this novel because practically everything about it—the cover, the writing, and the plot—screams wonderful. Nonetheless, since no product of human imagination is perfect, I’m sure that other readers will detect a flaw or two.
The Gilded Wolves significantly gleans from the book of Genesis. It features a world where each continent possesses a Babel Fragment, a mysterious object that gives humans the power to manipulate matter. Supposedly, one could attain god-like powers by combining each artifact. Yearning to prevent another instance of Divine Intervention (like what happened to the Tower of Babel), people thought of an innovative way to isolate the Fragments. The protagonists aren’t privy to such information, but they eventually learn of an object that can turn the tides. As they hunt through the glittering heart of Paris, dark forces rise from the ashes of the past.
I was extremely pleased to discover that one of the main characters was a Filipino who wanted to join the ranks of Jose Rizal. The story took place during the Colonial Period, and Enrique inevitably became my favorite protagonist because I resonated with his desire to free the Philippines from the not-so-benevolent Spaniards. Also, like Rizal, he planned to do so without resorting to violence. Enrique was undoubtedly a remarkable character, so I was always excited when the story was told from his point of view. Despite his rich knowledge in history, he was anything but boring.
The same could be said of Zofia, my second favorite character. She was a blue-eyed and silver-haired nerd who excelled in mathematics. She could solve tons of problems in seconds/minutes and find patterns everywhere. For me, her most endearing trait was her lack of social skills, which made her seem standoffish among her peers. In reality, she wanted to connect with Enrique and the others; she just wasn’t good at verbal communication. As an introvert, I related to her talent for unconventional bonding. Even though Zofia barely conversed with her peers, she managed to form meaningful relationships with them. Of course, this was also possible since they were sensitive enough to genuinely understand her standpoint.
The other characters (Severin, Laila, Tristan, and Hypnos) were intriguing in their own ways. For example, Severin and Tristan were foster brothers who named their dads according to the seven deadly sins. Their childhood was reminiscent of A Series of Unfortunate Events since they kept on changing parents. Hypnos gave me another reason for intertextual analysis because his flirty behavior was cunningly similar to Magnus Bane of The Mortal Instruments. As for Laila, she was unique because of Indian heritage and existential crisis (which was mysterious as heck).
The pace of the heist narrative did not falter at any point. Severin and his team were always on the move, cracking codes and infiltrating enemy headquarters. I’ve never been a fan of spy movies. However, reading this book felt like watching a particularly engaging one. The banter and pure camaraderie between the characters also helped maintain the speed of the plot. Strangely, Roshani’s writing style seemed toned down (less flowery) in this book. This was probably a good thing because it encouraged me to focus on the characters instead of dwelling on the beauty of the author’s literary devices.
Ironically, I have to be subjective to increase the objectivity of my review. The only “issue” that I had was the interpretation/modification of Biblical text. Although it’s in the context of fiction, some readers who are unfamiliar with the book of Genesis might see the new narrative as truth. With that in mind, if you want to read this book, I encourage you to do some research first. I’m not entirely comfortable with retelling Biblical truths, but I won’t lower my rating since the latter argument is predominantly biased.
All in all, I genuinely enjoyed The Gilded Wolves. In light of its Filipino roots, this book is a rare gem in the YA community. If I could visit the USA right now, I would love to give Roshani a high five (and ask for her manuscript of the sequel).