I am reaching, but I fall
And the stars are black and cold
As I stare into the void
– Javert & Jean Valjean, Les Miserables
Ms. Ee’s amazing book both places us in awe of a great story and the shock of pain for the inhabitants of it. Heavenly angels and fallen angels from Hell war with one another with devastating impact on the earth. Humans simply know that once angels were among us, so was devastation. Clearly from its reception, the characters and narrative resonate with us. The grand struggle is off-set with the personal impact on those who live through it. Penryn so desperately works to hold her family together consisting of a whacked out mother and a little sister in a wheelchair. This is daunting enough in a civilized world, in the left over rubble of Penryn’s world; it’s heart-breakingly hard. You’re pulled through the twists and turns like a bobsled down a run. Along the way, an intriguing cast of characters jump in the sled, but they’re not just along for the ride; they change the run and each other.
Before I dive into details, and some spoilers, I do want to say what’s probably obvious to all but feel the need to make clear: while the inspiration for the back-story of the angels is from the Bible, these angels and the way their hierarchy works are not Biblical. I’m quite confident that Ms. Ee recognized the artistic license taken. This may be a bit more detail than desired, but I just don’t want anyone to walk away with the wrong impression. So the Nephilim are Biblical and the idea that they’re offspring of angels is a reasonable interpretation of the Bible (Genesis 6:4, Numbers 13:33) and that this led to wickedness and finally the Flood (Genesis 6:5-8). There are also more detailed references to the Nephilim in the extra-canonical books (outside the Bible) of Enoch and Jubiliees. The notion of angels and archangels is also Biblical (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 4:16 & Jude 1:9) which also implies a hierarchical structure (but isn’t explicit about this). However, there is no sense that the orders come down from a main archangel or that no other angel communicates directly with God. Gabriel stands in the presence of God even as he brings good news of John’s impending birth to Zechariah. Michael also contends with the devil and pronounces the Lord’s rebuke. The word “angel” (Hebrew – malach, Greek – aggelos) implies messenger. They are before God’s thrown and directly convey his messages to people on earth; they do not rely on their orders from another angel. So, the communication mess used in Angelfall is not one that could happen (but does make for beautiful drama which, I’m sure, was Ms. Ee’s design) nor would non-fallen angels be so human in their politics.
Now for the ****spoilers**** part of the review
What both draws us into the drama so deeply and simultaneously reviles us is the evil and pain angels inflict on humans and each other. The disparity between the angels of heaven and hell is becoming narrow through this time; hell is reaching up to drag them down and the heavenly angels aren’t resisting the pull. Like Javert and Jean Valjean, they both seem to stare into the void and come up with no answers. I’ve previously written about the use of evil in SciFi and Fantasy, let me just say that my body tried to crawl within itself at some of these moments; Paige being cut open and formed into a monster both physically and, at least to some degree, mentally makes me retch. I am drawn into the story and I’m looking forward to the sequel, but I do feel like I’m receiving body blows when I read this kind of travesty. So the scenes of the Nephilim (I presume) sucking the life out of live but benumbed people (mostly women) and bat wings attached to an angel ripping his own flesh and others are hard for me to read through. To be honest, it’s not an experience I voluntarily want to put myself through. I may seem a bit squeamish and many relish this kind of rush of challenge. For me, it takes a pretty compelling story to dive back in; Angelfall is such a story.
Angelfall has a truly great heroine in Penryn; her willingness to give all for her family and those in need, her kick-ass fighting while being a petite girl and her ability to manage in difficulties in the midst of many unknowns are some of her delightful characteristics. Raphael is amazing – driven by love and honor, he holds fast whilst his comrades are deeply tempted and treat humans poorly. His willingness to “fix” the issue of his heavenly host failures has been centuries of work and he holds fast through it all. Penryn’s mom adds some wonderful color.
A fabulous tale with piquant twists and turns whilst living out good versus evil on all levels of the scale. I’m reminded of another tale where evil is often present and, unintended consequences are devastating to others – Les Misérables:
There, out in the darkness
A fugitive running
Fallen from god
Fallen from grace
God be my witness
I never shall yield
Till we come face to face
Till we come face to face
He knows his way in the dark
Mine is the way of the Lord
And those who follow the path of the righteous
Shall have their reward
And if they fall
As Lucifer fell
– Javert, Les Misérables
I jumped between my Kindle and the Audible version of the book. Caitlin Davies does a masterful job as narrator. This tale is told from the point of view of Penryn. She not only nails the voice, but also performs the interchange of dialog among the characters masterfully. (Personal privilege – Windows dev team for Audible, thanks for getting Whispersync for Voice working on the Windows Phone 8 client).
I will leaves us with hope that in a future book in the series, we shall see, with Portia, the quality of mercy:
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
– Portia, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare