Title: The Silvered Serpents
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 416
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReads, StoryGraph
Notable Notables: POC, LGBTQ+, and autistic characters
Recommended Readers: Lovers of character-driven, fantasy adventures set in the real world (19th century)
Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
What a dramatic and tragic return! Roshani Chokshi has taken everything that made The Gilded Wolves fun and intriguing and added so much more for The Silvered Serpents. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s an easy 4.25 stars from me because I felt swept away from the first page. Everything here is richer. The world, the magic system, the stakes, the consequences, the characters, oh my, the characters.
Everyone has been left reeling from the aftershocks of the previous book and the losses they each experienced, from friends and family to love and godhood. The wounds are fresh and run deep, and everyone is attempting to deal with the trauma and fallout in their own ways, namely by seeking out their most secret, closely-held ambitions. Because this is how we cope. I totally understand.
From Séverin’s newfound coldness to Enrique’s yearning to be truly heard, Chokshi breathes so much life and emotion into these characters. I had always felt attuned to Séverin and Laila from the start, but I had trouble viewing Zofia, Enrique, and Tristan as fully-fledged characters before. That trouble has vanished with this book. Chokshi gives us constant deep dives into their heads, their thoughts, their feelings, and even demonstrates with respect and insightfulness about how their Otherness influences how the world interacts with them. This author has always done well with diversity, but here it shines like a jewel. You just want to keep it in your sight to admire it. The same could be said of her descriptions; I particularly love how character-focused they are.
That being said, the only main character I felt landed flat this time was Hypnos. I enjoyed him in The Gilded Wolves as the handsome, gay love interest of Enrique, always quick with a joke and wanting to fit in with the group. In The Silvered Serpents, however, Hypnos felt like he was standing still next to everyone else. Aside from a few, brief moments of self-awareness, he didn’t seem to be growing in any particular direction. His jokes were ill-timed and highlighted many of the problems the dialogue still has with these books. (The dialogue is, for me, the weakest aspect of the trilogy so far, which is a shame because the descriptions are so strong in comparison.) I also quickly became disenchanted with his romance with Enrique, which was the point the book was making, and I do ultimately prefer Enrique and Zofia together, but still. It was difficult to watch Hypnos being so tone-deaf toward Enrique’s feelings all the time.
I also had no real use for Eva and Ruslan. Their presence is necessary for the plot, if not a bit obvious, but even so. I usually wanted them off the page as soon as they appeared.
Speaking of the plot, it’s more meandering this time compared to The Gilded Wolves. This is a book, not of much action, but of introspection, quiet desperation, and horror. I personally didn’t mind this because it was to the benefit of the characters, with the author taking the time to flesh them out more. As exciting as the first book was, the action and puzzle-solving did prevent me from getting to know them with the depth I craved.
I’d be remiss, too, if I didn’t highlight the quiet desperation and sheer yearning between Séverin and Laila in particular. This is my OTP of the series, and their constant push and pull was as sizzling as it was agonizing. You ever see two people so clearly meant to be together—who both also know that—but they’re telling themselves all the reasons why they can’t? That it’s for their own good, that it’s because they’re hurting, that it’s because of the long game, which will make all of the suffering make sense one day, but oh my God, can y’all also just be transparent with each other and kiss already?
I love to suffer, though. I really do.
It’s why my heart also broke for Enrique, with how brilliant yet overlooked he is because of his age and race. For Zofia, who is equally brilliant and brave yet feels like a burden to everyone because she can’t view the world the way her friends can. (I must give my props to Chokshi again for depicting an autistic character’s POV, something I’ve never read before this series.) Plus, Zofia is Jewish, and Chokshi knows how to ground her fantasy, 19th century Europe in real-world politics, giving it that extra depth and relevance it needs. My heart even broke for Tristan, which is impressive given how he had to be shown in this book.
And then the ending happened, and I lost my entire mind. Heart-pounding, sexy, terrifying, cruel, devastating—all of these words describe the ending and yet cannot fully sum it up. One line, however, can:
“I wish my love was more beautiful.”
That right there is one of those rare, galaxy-brained lines a writer only dreams up every so often, and its power lies as much in its construction as it does in its delivery. Chokshi. Does. Both. Reading this line on the page punched me full on in the gut; I’m still thinking about it. I’m obsessed with it.
The only thing I wish was that the book had ended sooner than it did. This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I think the very last Séverin chapter should’ve been saved for the third book. For the drama. And because I love suffering, remember?
But regardless, so many mistakes have been made by so many people, and I can’t believe another year must pass until the last book comes out. Why? Why is the passage of time so necessary but so merciless?