The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
★★★★☆ // 4.25 out of 5 stars
This book spits in the face of colonialism. And baby, I’m proud. I’m definitely on board for the sequel.
After being burned so many times by YA books that missed the mark when attempting to formulate a diverse cast, reading the Gilded Wolves was a marvelously cathartic experience. Roshani Chokshi approaches developing her cast and discussing their marginalizations from a place of understanding and nuance and does so with the utmost sincerity. Zofia and Enrique by far share my favorite dynamic out of our main cast of 6, as they do much of the puzzle- solving together. I found the puzzles quite easy to follow because I’m rather balanced in terms of humanities and stem lines of thinking, but for readers who might lean one way or the other, I think it’s a great chance to see how attacking the same problem from a different angle could do you good and that collaboration is key.
I loved most of this book except the timeline at the climax was rather confusing and the drama set up for the next book was done with so much UST (btw Severin and Laila), which personally I did not care for. I can’t say the ending was bad, only that I wish it were more streamlined. The character development near the end was consistent, thank goodness, though it was also somewhat predictable, but the shift in the group dynamic is still great and enjoyable even if you can predict the progression of it all.
Fave characters: Zofia and Enrique, hands down.
Character I wish there were more of: Severin, Tristan…
I loved the inclusion of the puzzles which made Zofia and Enrique’s interactions so good. They work well together and have complementary skillsets. This is such good teamwork that combines the humanities and hard sciences – and it’s so rare that I see both sides handled with such nuance. Usually there is bias towards one over the other, where there’s bound to be immature jeering at the other side. But here the two grow to appreciate each other’s talents and see the value of a different approach to solving problems. I ship it but tbh I like them + Hypnos as an OT3 too.
Laila and Zofia’s friendship is also premium quality here. They have sort of a girly-girl and tomboy dynamic, but again, without all the typical jeering from either side which is instead replaced with mutual appreciation ad admiration if not complete understanding. They both bring something to the table that the other can benefit from.
Laila – Damn, Laila is so layered. Though she’s not my fave, I love the depth to her character and her interactions with everyone in the cast. I’m not too into this Severin/Laila romance, but I still find Laila’s actions so intriguing at the end because her mother-hen status almost makes you forget that she’s in the game to save herself.
Hypnos surprised me the most because I initially thought he was framed to be the antagonist, but in the end he just wants a friend group and tags along to have a grand old time. The man knows what he wants lmao and he got with the YA squad goals program.
I could have done with a bit more of Severin and Tristan as a whole, but I understand why they had less time devoted to them in comparison to the other relationships in this book. Tristan is still important since what happens to him is one of the catalysts for the group becoming distant for the next book set-up. I wish this were a trick and he weren’t dead RIP Tristan.
*End spoiler section*
I found the concept of magical artifacts used in GW’s world to be rather interesting, considering the amount of ransacked (i.e. stolen) cultural artifacts that make it into museums and private collections around the world but especially the West. Severin makes a point to reclaim his inheritence and position as his house patriarch from a world that could never fully accept him. Similarly, Laila, who is Indian, makes a point to not perform a “digestible” version of her faith and culture (in the form of dance) for an audience where the cultural significance would be lost on them; and where the meaning is divorced from its original context, the dominant colonialist narrative will seek to rebrand and exotify it under their own lens because it’s more comfortable for them to see marginalized groups that way.
This is a common theme within GW – as also seen with Enrique’s Chinese floral expert costume. It is literally a costume of a culture. Enrique himself says he’s never met an actual Chinese person who comes across the way he does in his disguise, But High Society Paris certainly expects to see a racial Fu Manchu caricature when they meet disguised-Enrique, who has to play into these racist notions to not attract any attention. I was fucking DE-LIGHTED to see this explored the way it was, almost as a direct subversion of the hot trash yellowface perptuated in Crooked Kingdom by Wylan disguised as Kuwei for the sake of causing white pain at the expense of a character of color. In the case of Gilded Wolves, Enrique, who is Asian (biracial Filipino and Spanish), is put in this position instead of a white™ character (who would not experience racism against POC because… Wylan ain’t POC duh
unless by some magic asspull in the future) and vocally speaks out against the gross caricature he has to use as a disguise.
GW blends real-world experiences of marginalization seamlessly into its narrative. There are other examples present in the book as well; in fact, three characters from the main cast are biracial (Severin, Enrique, Hypnos) and the book explores those parts of their identities in different ways.