The Silvered Serpents
“If there were stairs to hell, would you venture down those?” one character asks another in The Silvered Serpents. “It would depend on what was inside hell and if I needed it” the other answers. This is the perfect descriptor of the issue at the heart of this novel. Our team needs The Divine Lyrics, the question is, just what are they willing to do to get it?
This is book two of The Gilded Wolves series and it picks up soon after the events of book one, so you have to read the first novel in order to understand anything taking place here. This review will necessarily contain spoilers for that initial volume so if you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend reading my critique of that tale rather than this to see if you would be interested in the saga.
Tristan’s death has profoundly affected Séverin, not just because Séverin misses him but because Tristan’s demise revealed secrets he’d never shared with him. Finding out his brother was a sadist responsible for killing numerous animals and probably a couple of people has shaken Séverin to his core. The loss has also left him with the desperate desire to protect the rest of his team – and he is convinced The Divine Lyrics, a tome from the Tower of Babel purported to give humans the power of God, will give him the ability to do that.
The initial frantic search for the treatise made by Séverin, Laila, Enrique, Hypnos, and Zofia ended in failure and most of them gave up the hunt, believing they had exhausted every possible clue. Not Séverin. He has continued to chase down the merest rumor of a hint and his tenacity has paid off. He learns that the secret to the hidden location of the item they seek can only be seen through a heretofore unknown pair of spectacles and before you can say National Treasure Redoux the team is reassembled and on their way to Russia. Once there, the real adventure begins as they fight for both their lives and the chance to gain access to unbelievable power.
If I hadn’t been reading this book for review I’m not sure I would have made it past the first few chapters. That would have been a shame because once the group finds the spectacles, the story takes off and I could barely put it down. But before then it barely plods along. Pages and pages are spent in morose mourning for Tristan and additional space is lost to the quagmire of everyone questioning the meaning of life sans The Divine Lyrics. The start of the novel felt like a teen soap opera that didn’t fit at all with the first tale’s narrative of a group of successful new adults overcoming incredible odds to leave their mark on the world.
Since most of the exciting and fun bits of the story take place in spoiler territory, I can’t tell you much about the plot. I can tell you that the spectacles are only the beginning and that they lead our team to a house of wonders where all the treasure hunting escapades an adventurous heart could desire take place. Our daring swashbuckling fortune-hunters make some new friends, some new foes and stumble across folks who are a bit of both. Issues that have simmered in the background come to the foreground, containing shocking revelations and all the incumbent heartache and glory one could hope for. Ms. Chokshi’s writing is always lyrical and her elegant prose creates a world of gorgeous fantasy which she balances perfectly with the historical opulence of La Belle Époque, the era in which the tale is set. Once things start happening, you will be turning the pages as fast as you can to get to the end, which contains a frustratingly awesome cliff hanger.
The story is told from multiple viewpoints and this gives us a chance to see into the heart of each member of the team. Zofia, a Jewish girl who has what was labeled in the twentieth century as Aspergers, feels as though she is a burden to those around her. This has been sweetly pointed out to her by her sister, and Zofia can’t see that she is the one supporting her and who has built a life for herself outside the family. That cruel doubt niggles at her throughout the tale and to add to her struggles, being in Russia brings back unpleasant memories of the pogroms her people have had to face over the course of her lifetime.
Enrique, who is of Filipino descent, continues to struggle to make a name for himself in spite of his brilliance as an historian. He is slowly being worn down by the grind of battling racism and the only joy he has found in recent days is his flirtation with Hypnos.
Hypnos has problems of his own. He had been a childhood friend of Séverin but when Séverin was excised by the Houses, Hypnos had no power to help him since he was struggling to hold on to his own position. Now that his place is solid, he longs to be part of Séverin’s team and hates that he is consistently made to feel an outsider, especially by the person whose friendship he longs for most.
Laila has just twenty-one days of life left. Forged rather than born, she has no chance at a continued existence unless the team can find The Divine Lyrics. She longs to come to terms with her likely demise but she loves Séverin and watching the change the death of Tristan has caused in him makes it likely she will die with a broken heart and her hope of even a fleeting love unfulfilled.
All these issues give depth to what could easily have been a superficial action-adventure story. Understanding the motivations of the characters gives an authentic emotional element to their hunt for The Divine Lyrics and turns it from greed to a noble quest.
The Gilded Wolves had the start of two tentative romances, which I alluded to above, and those are both kinda, sorta addressed here. This is very much a middle book, where the action appears to move our narrative forward but there is enough fluidity to the non-conclusion to leave us wondering as to where all the pieces will land when we reach the finale. I’m hoping for happy endings all around and will keep my fingers crossed that book three will provide them.
Perhaps the largest barrier to true love conquering all will be Séverin. He has pulled away emotionally from everyone, determined that the pain of losing Tristan will be the last he ever feels, and as a result is completely resolved to do whatever it takes to acquire the power to protect himself and everyone he cares about. He’s a desperate, dangerous man and he is skirting catastrophically close to destroying rather than guarding his friends. It’ll be interesting to see how this is resolved.
The truly lamentable start aside, The Silvered Serpents is a fantastic sequel to The Gilded Wolves. I can only hope that the next volume comes out very, very soon.