Book: The Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves #2)
Author: Roshani Chokshi
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Zofia and Eva talk about dance and then Laila.
Content Warnings: Ableism, racism, misogyny, anti-semitism, classism, colonialism, sex work shaming, sexual assault (attempted rape by coercion), past child abuse, self-harm for magical purposes, mentions of stillbirth & infertility, blood depiction, physical injury, terminal illness, grief & loss, murder, poisoning, kidnapping, psychological torture, explosion, mentions of being buried alive, animal death mentioned, bodily harm
SPOILER ALERT: This review will include slight spoilers for The Gilded Wolves, I have tried to make them as vague as possible but if you haven’t read the first book then stop reading here.
The Gilded Wolves was one of my favourite books of last year, so naturally I was very excited to read the sequel when it came out (and then I proceeded to not read it for three months, as you do) and find out what happened to Severin and his crew next. I was slightly disappointed? Don’t get me wrong, I still really loved the characters but the plot was a little thin and it was incredibly slow paced (the first book did have some pacing problems but this book had even more for me). Here is a short synopsis of the book:
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 rumored to grant its possessor the power of God.
Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into the 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.
So we’ll start with my old friend: PACING. I know, I know, I sound like a broken record because I talk about this so much, but it’s a major problem with a lot of books, so it’s probably going to keep coming up. But this book really is far too slow paced, it only really picks up in the last third and there’s fairly little action, most of the book is the characters wandering around the Sleeping Palace looking for The Divine Lyrics. Now the first book wasn’t without its pacing issues but because it was a heist, there was a fair amount of action and this book didn’t really have that. Roshani’s description of this book being “more adverbs than action” in the acknowledgements, really did ring true and unfortunately, I am not the kind of reader who likes that! Some of the chapters were overly long as well, which didn’t help with the pacing.
Which brings me to my next point. The writing. The writing is beautiful, but I didn’t feel like it was as good as the previous book? There were far too many adverbs and some of the sentences felt quite long winded and clunky which really bogged me down whilst reading.
On the positive side, I still loved the characters. Zofia’s arc in this book was particularly notable for me, as I thought she grew a lot through the book and I loved seeing how she really came into herself and embraced her power. My favourites didn’t really change from the first book, I still love Zofia, Enrique and Laila the most, they are definitely the standout characters for me, but I wanted to particularly note Zofia’s arc because it was the one I enjoyed the most. It also seemed to suggest that Zofia is on the asexual spectrum, I’d guess demi-sexual which is pretty cool to see!
I also really love how soft Enrique is, it’s so lovely to see a male character who is sweet and sensitive and comfortable with his feelings!
However, the group dynamic was a little frayed, understandably because of the grief all of the characters were experiencing. I do appreciate how well that was done, and how thoroughly Chokshi explored how grief from the death in The Gilded Wolves affected all of the main characters. It did however mean that the fun characters bouncing off each other from the first book wasn’t there as much. I still loved the dialogue in this, but there was by necessity, something missing from the group dynamic I loved so much in the first book.
Severin however really annoyed me. I do understand that his actions were driven by his grief, but it was really hard to see him treating his friends so badly and pushing them away and that lasts throughout the book. I especially hated the way he treated Laila, the whole collar thing really left sour taste in my mouth. Their whole dynamic in this book was super frustrating, Severin basically pushes her away by being cruel because he can’t face losing her and whilst that’s understandable, Laila deserves so much better than the way Severin treated her in this book.
Speaking of the relationships in this book, the Enrique-Hypnos-Zofia love triangle also frustrated me, though I do give Roshani Chokshi props that her love triangle did actually feel believable as Enrique did have chemistry with both Enrique and Zofia, I’m just not a fan of love triangles in general. I also love all three characters so I didn’t want to see any of them hurt and that’s how a love triangle inevitably ends for at least one person in it. I was also really upset with how Hypnos treated Enrique in this book, he doesn’t listen to him, he ignores him and he leads him on. I appreciated that this book showed a break-up as I think it’s important in YA books that characters don’t always end up with the first person they go out with but that doesn’t mean I approved of how Hypnos treated Enrique and I was really rooting for them before this book.
Zofia and Enrique really seem to understand each other, and they seem well suited, but of course neither admits their feelings for each other in this book which is frustrating because they basically spend the entire book internally talking about their potential feelings for each other but it doesn’t go anywhere. I hope that their relationship gets more development in the next book because they have a lovely dynamic with each other.
In terms of the world building, this book still left a lot to be desired. We don’t really get to see much of Russia despite the fact that a large majority of the book takes place there because for most of the book they are in the Sleeping Palace. Whilst I did think The Sleeping Palace was a cool setting, it was fairly limited and I would have liked to have seen more of Russia. I’m also SO FRUSTRATED THAT IT’S THE SECOND BOOK AND I STILL HAVE NO IDEA HOW FORGING WORKS. We get introduced to a new type of forging, Blood forging in this book, which is super cool but I still wish I knew how it worked! So much detail goes into all of the mythology references and I just wish the same detail went into the rest of the worldbuilding. We also didn’t get much of a sense of House Dazbog, and how they worked, despite them being the only house in Russia, which felt like a bit of an oversight. I did love how wintery this book was though!
I’d like to see a little more of the characters interacting with others in the group outside of their regular groups: we get a lot of Severin/Laila and Zofia/Enrique, or Zofia/Enrique/Hypnos but some of my favourite moments in this book actually came when lesser explored pairings were together, like heart to hearts between Enrique and Laila and a nice moment with Zofia and Hypnos. I also missed seeing Laila and Zofia one on one as those moments were some of my favourites in the first book and we don’t get as many of those here.
I had a big issue with some girl hate in this book. A new female character, Eva is introduced, basically as a rival to Laila and it’s another case of girls pitted against each other because they like the same guy. I do appreciate that the text did acknowledge this pattern but it still annoyed me that it leaned into this trope because it wasn’t necessary and didn’t really add anything to the story as a whole. It was especially disappointing because I noted in my review of The Gilded Wolves how much I loved how supportive Laila and Zofia’s friendship was. Eva doesn’t really seem to have much of a personality beyond the stereotypical mean girl, which I thought was a bit of a shame.
I didn’t feel like the plot was as strong this time around, I felt like The Gilded Wolves was definitely more plot focused and it had lots of twists and turns and I never really knew how things were going to turn out, whereas in this book, the plot felt kind of thin and stretched out as they only had the one goal and they were in one place for the majority of the book & I just didn’t think the story in the Sleeping Palace needed to be as long as it was.
I really want Hypnos to have a POV, he doesn’t feel as fleshed out as the other characters and I feel like that’s because he doesn’t have a POV (until the epilogue). We did get to see a little more past the comic relief aspects of his character in this book, but I would really like to get to learn more about him and I feel like he needs to have a POV in order for that to happen. I felt so bad that he was feeling so lonely and left out in this book, he tries so hard to be helpful and is basically unacknowledged by the rest of the group a lot of the time (having said that, that’s no excuse for the way he treats Enrique). I’m also kind of confused as to whether Hypnos romantically likes Severin, or if he’s just desperate for his approval in a familial type way? I don’t know, I could be reading way too much into it but there were definitely points in this book that felt like Hypnos might have an unrequited crush.
I liked getting to know the House Kore matriarch (Delphine) a bit more in this book, especially finding out more about her backstory with Severin. I would have liked to have seen more one on one moments with her and Laila though because I really liked their dynamic, I thought it was really interesting.
There are quite a few twists in this especially towards the end of the book, one I definitely called from the beginning, one I felt a bit silly not working out because it was kind of obvious. The main one though, I didn’t feel like it was quite built up enough. There’s hints in the epilogue of the last book and the prologue of this one, but the book spends so long trying to bait and switch you into thinking that it’s someone else and then when the reveal happened, it didn’t feel entirely earned to me, because I felt like it hadn’t been built up well enough (I know this is super vague, I’m trying to talk about it in the least spoilery way possible)!
So much of this book relies on the miscommunication trope as many of the characters’ problems and puzzles could have been solved if THEY’D JUST TALKED TO EACH OTHER, and it’s one of my least favourite tropes because it really frustrates me!
Some of the historical details in this book are a little messy: to start with, Poland. So in 1890, when this book is set, Poland wasn’t an independent country, it was partitioned by Russia, Prussia and Austro-Hungary, so having it referred to as if it’s an independent entity, is a bit misleading. It’s also strange that Zofia never mentions it, as she does talk about how much she hates Russia, but in relation to her being Jewish, which is of course very valid, but you’d think she’d also mention the fact that Russia has partitioned her country!
There’s also the fact that one of Laila’s dresses is mentioned to have A ZIPPER, when zippers were really only in their infancy in the 1890s and weren’t used in France until the mid 1920s. I know it’s a super petty detail compared to the first but these things do matter. I also saw a review from Uma (@Books.Bags.Burgers) who mentioned that Laila knowing about the story of Laila & Majnun in 1889/1890 was incredibly unlikely, along with some other issues with Laila’s representation that I wouldn’t have noticed so I wanted to point that out and link to their review, since they are South Indian and know a lot more about this than me.
I’m still a little confused as to how old Enrique is meant to be, I thought they were all around 19/20, but then he’s described as being a University graduate when he met Severin two years ago, which suggests that he might be a bit older than the others? Unless he started University very young, or uni was much shorter back then, but it seems more likely that Enrique would be a bit older. I know his age isn’t stated on page (I don’t think) and it’s not really a big deal, I’m just a little confused!
THAT DAMN ENDING. The whole last few chapters of the book were super intense, but THAT ENDING. I can’t believe that Roshani Chokshi ended the book this way and that we have to WAIT UNTIL SEPTEMBER TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. I need The Bronzed Beasts now!
Overall, this book definitely suffered from middle book syndrome, with slow pacing and a fairly thin plot and world building that still wasn’t fully explained. However, the characters definitely carried the story and I’m excited to see where the final book in the trilogy goes.
My Rating: 3.5/5
My next review will either be of Lore by Alexandra Bracken or The Unbound by Victoria Schwab depending on which I finish first.