Angelfall – Susan Ee

This was a funny book to read so soon after City of Bones. In that book, the magic-using folk (wizarding world folk) were called Nephilim, which I strongly objected to; it was one of many misuses or weird twistings of mythology. In Angelfall the word is used more correctly, and to effect.

It got a lot of things right. It made me forget that it was set in the first-person present tense, which I’m still not fond of. And I have to say I’m impressed by the storytelling – the reveal of what happened with the angels’ arrival was nearly – nearly – flawless. There was an excellent balance of explanation and subterfuge, doling out a morsel of knowledge here and a crumb there. The drawback about the way the background was told was, simply, that it took it too far in the opposite direction of infodump. Reading Angelfall was possibly the only time I have ever wished for just one big old infodump. There was a great deal divulged, but slowly, very gradually – and, in the end, not enough. I would like to know more about what exactly happened the day the world all but ended. I’d like to know more about events right after; how did Penryn and Paige and their mother survive and stay together, did they have to leave their home immediately, how have they been feeding themselves, and more. A flashback, a direct question-and-answer exchange between characters, something, anything would have helped.

One big reason more information would have been great was one of the things that made the book strong: Penryn is seventeen, her little sister Paige is wheelchair-bound, and their mother is a paranoid schizophrenic. This isn’t the usual post-apocalyptic survival story. It’s almost too much – odds are so steeply against this little family that I almost expected to read something (in Paige’s voice) like “Oh, and did I mention I’m blind and have a paralyzing fear of the dark?” They’re all alone – they’ve always been pretty much alone, due to the family’s circumstances – and so of course Paige is tough and holds it all together. It works, without her turning into the dreaded Mary Sue.

And one major payoff of the family’s circumstances is one of the strongest moments I’ve read in any YA novel lately. Paige’s paralysis, and the little clique she collected around herself after it, and Penryn’s respect and affection for her little sister, all funnels into one moment where Paige has to see past someone’s extreme appearance, has to climb over her own fear and do and say things to save herself, save her companion, and hopefully save her sister. It’s a passage that’s going to linger with me.

One other place information would have been great is on the subject of the angels. My understanding of how events took place is that one day they just … landed. There were meteors and fires and all sorts of hell broke loose – possibly literally – and death and destruction were rampant for a while – but surely somewhere in the beginning some enterprising up-and-coming-Christiane Amanpour would have done a news story about what we know about angels. But I suppose this is a combined drawback and advantage to placing your point of view behind the eyes of a seventeen-year-old girl; she’s not going to know the names of the archangels and their attributes. (I did when I was seventeen, but I wasn’t normal, and I read Katherine Kurtz.) She’s not going to know who Raffe is the minute he introduces himself. She’s not going to understand why that one angel is looked upon with such terror. The latter was interesting; the former was a little irritating.

My rating for this book, overall, wavers around 3.5 stars. It was pretty well told; the voice was very readable, and I liked the characters; the setting was pretty distinctive among post-apocalyptics, and avoided a lot of the well-worn familiar roads. But it galumphed along so quickly that it leapt right over places where just a bit more exposition could have happened to give a poor reader a break.

And, in the end, I couldn’t rate a book about angels higher than four stars. I’ve avoided such – actually, now that I think about it, I believe this is the only one I’ve read. My suspicion has always been that this sub-subgenre is going to take angels to one extreme or the other: glowy Disney-esque fluffy-winged folk, or massively sexy quick-while-God’s-not-looking love machines. There was a dearth of angel lore in my upbringing, but I do know a few names, and one thing I do know is that in most lore they’re not ripped men with wings (or sultry chicks with wings): they’re genderless. Sorry, sports fans. I can swallow there being a bit of chaos among them; canonical angels (by which I mean, you know, Canon) obviously have personalities and opinions, if Lucifer is anything to go by. But I just can’t get behind angel soap opera.

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