My Favorite Bit: Aliette de Bodard talks about THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS
Aliette de Bodard is joining us today with her novel The House of Shattered Wings. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.
Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.
What’s Aliette’s favorite bit?
ALIETTE DE BODARD
My favourite bit of The House of Shattered Wings is Lucifer Morningstar.
The House of Shattered Wings is set in an alternate version of Paris which was devastated by a magical war in 1914, and where magic is the province of Fallen angels and their favourites. Naturally, any such book would need their own version of Lucifer!
The proto-version of The House of Shattered Wings was a novelette set in the fictional city of Silverspires, and had a first version of Morningstar as an elderly angel sitting in a former church and seldom moving from it (owing, I suspect, a big debt to the angel Islington in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a villain with whom I’ve long been fascinated). He was also rich, knowledgeable, and desperate to return to Heaven, or to catch any glimpse of it–and would pay any price for that.
When the novelette became a novel, I was… not entirely satisfied with this version of Morningstar, which seemed to me to be lacking both in sulphurous seductiveness and in badass levels–we are talking about someone who led a rebellion in Heaven, so he had to be memorable. I drew on other things I’d read and watched with Lucifer and/or Fallen angels in them (the Devils in Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series, Lucifer the Sandman, Akio in Utena), and completely rethought the character.
The ruined church stayed, and became the ruins of Notre-Dame–for, if you’re the oldest and most powerful Fallen in existence, where else are you going to make your home, but at the religious centre of Paris, on an island close to the very centre of the city? I ditched the “seldom moving from it” because it made my plot needlessly complicated. My new Morningstar was the founder of Silverspires, the oldest House in Paris: a powerful magical faction and a place of safety for hundreds of souls. He was fair-haired, arrogant and possessed of an effortless magical aura that drew people to him.
And, to materialise this arrogance, I gave him wings.
I really love the wings–they’re my favourite bit of this favourite bit. In this universe, Fallen angels lose their wings when they fall from Heaven (or rather, the wings are burnt away and mangled irretrievably when they hit the ground). But Morningstar made himself metal, serrated wings: both a matter-of-fact statement that he didn’t care where he stood with regards to Heaven, and a wickedly efficient weapon that he wielded in battle.
Naturally, a character like that is going to distort the plot whenever he runs close to it. And, having set most of my action and most of my characters in House Silverspires, I needed them to be vulnerable if I wanted a plot. This required me to either give them a threat that would be stronger than Morningstar; or to do something a little different.
Yeah, that’s right. Having made this wonderful, powerful, arrogant character, I proceeded to get rid of him.
As the book opens, Morningstar has been missing for more than twenty years. The House he founded has attempted to go on as best as they can, but they have been steadily losing power and influence, and even the magical protections Morningstar left them have been slowly ebbing away. This would not be a great place to be even in the best circumstances; but you can always rely on a character to accidentally set off a major curse on the House…
Of course, missing doesn’t mean completely absent from the narration–he looms large in the life of some characters: Selene, his successor as head of House Silverspires, was his student and is still trying to fill in for him; and Philippe, a Vietnamese immigrant with magical abilities of his own, is able to see him in visions. In both cases they’re very interesting scenes to write, where I can play on the intersection of awe and terror that such a character would generate, and show off the contrast between my characters and Morningstar.
All in all, I’m really glad I redesigned the character–he made for such a fun experience writing him!
Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a System Engineer. In her increasingly rare spare time (between the day job and wrangling a young toddler), she writes speculative fiction. She has won two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. Her novel, The House of Shattered Wings, is set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war and features Fallen angels, alchemists, witches, a Vietnamese ex-Immortal with a grudge, and entirely too many dead bodies! It’s out August 18th from Roc Books in the US and August 20thfrom Gollancz in the UK. Visit http://www.aliettedebodard.com for more information.