Reviews

Review: The Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves #2) by Roshani Chokshi

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They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.

Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost ― one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumoured to grant its possessor the power of God.

Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.

As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.

A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job. 


RATING: ☆★☆

              When it came out a year ago, The Gilded Wolves was a fresh, welcome addition to the YA Fantasy yarn. I pleasurably devoured it, and was really looking forward to reading the sequel and folding myself once again between the characters and their tragedy, lose myself in the beauty of their voices—and have many of my questions answered. Unfortunately, the burst of excitement that flamed in my heart when I picked up this book was quickly swallowed up by disappointment.

(Spoilers for book 1)

              Séverin feels the loss of his brother like a limb torn away. Tristan’s death has left everyone with wounds, and Séverin chooses to tend to his by searching restlessly for the Divine Lyrics: the artifact that would make the world bend to meet his wish, that contains the secret for bridging the uncrossable gulf between mortal and divinity.

              “We could be gods,” says Séverin, the words spilling out reverence, pain, and power.

              Grief is a magnificently blinding force, and from the outset of the novel, Séverin stands inside its scalding beam, unable to see past that light. But Séverin is not the only one with his heart hanging open on its hinges. Layla, Hypnos, Zofia and Enrique are all filled with sadness and secrets that they would not utter, all of them like eggs, each afraid to crack the other. But a quest is set in front of them, and they are determined to see it through.

              Though it is soon beginning to feel less like a quest and more like the jaws of a trap waiting for them to walk right into it.

“If there were stairs to hell, would you venture down those?”
“It depends on what was inside hell, and if I needed it.”

                     The Silvered Serpents has a visible case of middle-book syndrome. The thin storyline, excruciatingly slow build, and lack of major plot movement does very little of expanding our understanding of how the magic that fuels the practice of Forging works, or give a clearer look into the corruption of the institutions trying to smother Séverin and his crew, or even rattle a few more skeletons out of the characters’ closets.

              The novel is also drained of that air of urgency that I liked about its predecessor, the suggestion of a trapdoor waiting under every page that kept me awake until the early hours of the morning reading The Gilded Wolves, feeling like I was going to shatter out of my skin with nerves as I tried to squint the words into focus and chase away the drowsiness that threatens to fall on me like a boulder.

              As The Silvered Serpents progresses, it quickly settles into a rut:

              Séverin restlessly walks the edges of his flashfire ambition like a lion in its cage. Tristan’s death has tipped him into silence and grief, something gray and deathly cold hanging in his eyes. He is still himself, but girded, made more terrible, crueler. Séverin wanted to reach the place where grief wouldn’t find him, where he wouldn’t feel, but he might have passed it, and wandered somewhere worse. 

              Meanwhile, Layla, Hypnos, Enrique and Zofia still drift toward him, every one of them pulled into his orbit. Layla, who plays the role of his mistress, links her arm within his, though their hearts remain at war. To Enrique and Zofia, Séverin is the bulk that is the bulwark that defends them against life’s vicissitudes, and Hypnos still hangs on Séverin’s words, as though a mere acknowledgment from him is a victory, hard won, long sought-after, each time a prize. 

              And as this goes around and around, like an argument that always returns to its unassailable premise, the story quickly becomes mired in too much angst and drama. The characters are all hurting, and they’re struggling to move through that, which is a challenging feeling to portray. To me it frankly all seemed more miserable than was strictly necessary. It also seemed absurd to me why the characters did not just confess their faults and sorrows and be done. Communication is always key! Instead misunderstandings abound, the dialogue becomes stiff and dry, and the clichés fall like a torrent of rain (the girl-on-girl-hate trope annoyed me to no end and quickly soured my mood).

              Still, the spell never entirely dissipates in The Silvered Serpents. Chokshi is, without a doubt, a brilliant writer, imbuing her novel with luxurious language and exquisite imagery that washes over the reader in waves. The setup is splendid: Chokshi sails the characters and the story to a wintry Russia where you feel the cold all through you, quick and sharp as a stab, and clouds of breath swirl in front of you like chummy ghosts. Many of the same themes and obsessions that intrigued me in The Gilded Wolves haunt this book as well: greed for one, loss (whether it’s stolen property, a person, or a sense of self), the peril of unbelonging, of being powerless and having no way to bargain with the world, and the agony of trying to reckon with and claim the clashing parts of one’s identity. Other new themes are introduced: how inside every myth there’s a kernel of truth, how stories can rise from slumber like restless ghosts, and how forgotten people can still speak. The author also makes a point about the cost of giving someone so much power over us, and how love “[does] not always wear a face of beauty”. But not every theme winds up getting its due, and I think a bit more poison in the pen would have achieved more resonance.

              The ultimate unveiling of the source of evil at the end felt unsatisfyingly hollow, and was obvious from the book’s earliest pages. Ultimately, what The Silvered Serpents unfortunately fails to do is give me enough of a reason to continue with the series. This is a very unpopular opinion though, so I wouldn’t discourage you from still picking up this book!

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