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Why you need to stop comparing Gilded Wolves to Six of Crows

The Gilded Wolves Six of Crows

If you’re here, I’m assuming you already know that both of these books feature a motley found-family of teenagers who pull off magical heists, and have probably heard a bunch of comparisons of how The Gilded Wolves is like a “Six of Crows rip-off”.

I will say that I did read and enjoy both of these books, and I don’t mean to say one is better than the other overall. I enjoyed the tight plotting and humor of Six of Crows, and I enjoyed the lush writing and richly conceived world of The Gilded Wolves. I’m not trying to bash on either book or author. I’ve just seen too many (predominantly white) readers and reviewers claim that one is a cheap knock-off of the other, and I want to give my two cents.

I’m here to tell you that despite the surface level similarities, The Gilded Wolves has one aspect that Six of Crows cannot touch: explorations of how difficult it is to navigate the world as a person of color and what systemic oppression and colonial trauma look like. Sure, Six of Crows has people of color from different cultures in its cast of main characters, and we see a little bit of the racism these characters face, but The Gilded Wolves takes this to a whole new level. This may or may not be related to the fact that The Gilded Wolves was written by Roshani Chokshi, a woman of color…

In the world of The Gilded Wolves, magic (or Forging, as it’s called in the book) is endowed to people via Babel fragments, pieces of the Tower of Babel that have scattered across the world. Originally these fragments are used in different ways around the globe, and in this alternate universe, the quest to collect Forging artifacts is the reason the West begins to colonize the rest of the world. It is obvious that European countries stealing Babel fragments and Forging artifacts is a parallel to exploitation and plundering of many countries in the real world. Chokshi also captures the more insidious side of Western colonization, where well-meaning historians document how indigenous people couldn’t possibly know how to use these powers correctly, and any knowledge must have come from trade with the Greeks or Romans. The complete inability to believe that people with darker skin could be intelligent or resourceful…sadly still a part of the world we live in.

Another major aspect of this book is the consideration of your identity when you are both part of the colonized and the colonizer. This is explicit in Enrique, Séverin, and Hypnos, who each have one indigenous parent (Filipina, Algerian, and Haitian, respectively) and one colonizer parent. All of these character struggle both with their biracial identity and their privilege in passing for white in European noble circles. I really loved these discussions, especially since they took heavy issues like colonial trauma and exploitation and distilled them to a personal level.

Less explicit is how colonialism has affected Laila, who comes from India and is expected to perform nautch dances for the entertainment of the general (European) public. I love the idea here, that showcasing your culture for others’ superficial enjoyment is exploitation. I completely stand behind that. But as a Bharatanatyam dancer myself, I was confused about how this part of the book was handled. Nautch dancers traditionally did perform for others’ entertainment, but in historical times they performed for kings and their courts. The dance they performed wasn’t sacred or devotional. It seems like Chokshi meant to invoke the Devdasis rather than the nautch dancers, who performed the pre-cursor to modern Bharatanatyam in temples. This dance was indeed sacred and it would have been very insulting to perform this for others’ enjoyment, as Laila’s dancing is described. Despite this confusion, I really liked the explicit mention of Bharatanatyam and all the traditional trappings that go along with it (flowers in your braided hair, strings of bells tied to your feet, henna on your fingertips).

I’m not saying The Gilded Wolves is flawless, because I did find the plot a bit bloated at times. I am saying that this book is unique, and worth a read even if you have already read Six of Crows. Again, superficial similarities aside, these are two very different books and there’s really no reason to compare them when you’re reading or recommending either series.

5 thoughts on “Why you need to stop comparing Gilded Wolves to Six of Crows”

  1. I LOVE THIS. Especially the line “This may or may not be related to the fact that The Gilded Wolves was written by Roshani Chokshi, a woman of color…” because it is true! Chokshi spoke about this at a recent IG Live.

    Also, yeah both are extremely different! Thank you for writing this very eloquent and important piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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