The Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves #2)
by Roshani Chokshi
YA Historical Fantasy
Publication date: September 22, 2020 by Wednesday Books
While still dealing with the consequences of the events of The Gilded Wolves, Séverin and his team travel to Russia in search of an ancient artifact that legends says will grant a person god-like powers. After his failures, Séverin is desperate to find it, hoping that it will allow him to protect his friends from every possible danger. But his attempts to save them may drive them farther away, for the ghosts of the past linger on in every possible way, and Séverin is only beginning to learn how those ghosts can still hurt the future. Meanwhile, the rest of the team members have their own secrets to keep, and though sharing those secrets could save them, trust is as scarce as warmth is in the frozen Russian landscape. And the closer they get to finding the artifact, the more they find that their secrets could be as dangerous as the ghosts pursuing them.
“Empty bookshelves covered nearly all the wall space, and yet, when Enrique breathed deeply, he caught the scent of books. Of binding and pages and tales eager to be known. Knowledge was coy. It liked to hide beneath the shroud of myth, place its heart in a fairy tale, as if it were a prize at the end of the quest. Perhaps whatever knowledge was here was similar. Perhaps it wished to be wooed and coaxed forth.”
Though fantasy sequels often have a reputation for being a step down in quality from the first book, they have their advantages. Dozens– or hundreds– of pages are not given over to character introductions or worldbuilding. The reader gets to plunge into the story straightaway without asking a thousand questions about why the magic works the way it does, how it is used, and how it can change the characters’ world. By the time book two comes around, these things are known, and so are the characters. The reader often has a favorite one or two or three, and is dying to know what will happen to them. Will they fall in love? Will they find the artifact? Will they make it to the next book? The story is allowed to unfold without interruption, and if the author knows what they’re doing, the reader is swept up in the whole affair.
Fortunately for fans of The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi knows what she is doing and tells another sweeping tale of intrigue and magic that will grab readers from the first page and not let go until they’ve turned the last one.
Because the heavy lifting of worldbuilding was a major part of The Gilded Wolves, The Silvered Serpents is free to expand upon the ideas introduced in the previous book, as well as focusing more specifically on the characters, their inner conflicts, and the interpersonal strife between the crewmembers. Their conflicts do as much to propel the story as the plot itself does– a bit of a rarity in YA fantasy, which too often relies on deus ex machina devices and random plot twists to get the story moving. And while Chokshi is an obvious believer in the plot device of Chekhov’s gun, she knows better than to deploy it at every turn, and so while mentions of spider venom or magical mechanical animals might go overlooked by the casual reader, a perceptive reader will know to be on the lookout for them, and then be delighted when– and by how– they are put to use.
But for all the cleverness of the magic and devices in The Silvered Serpents, its greatest strength is the characters, who come alive in their disparate ways. Their strengths complement each other even more this time around, while their fears and weaknesses lead them to make mistakes and put their trust where they shouldn’t. And in a genre that relies on snarling boys and sneering girls who can’t be bothered to use their words, Séverin and Company know how to have a conversation. Whether they’re imparting historical tidbits or trying to figure out how they feel about each other, these characters sound like real people who are just trying to figure out what they want from the world while dealing with world-changing events.
The Gilded Wolves laid down a foundation of myth and magic. The Silvered Serpents builds upon it, letting personal stories intersect with legendary ones to create a layered narrative that doesn’t let up until the last page. And even then, readers will be left wanting to find out what happens next.
Thank you to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.