Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Archangel by Sharon Shinn

It makes me feel really old to ask you to get into the wayback machine for this one, but as I take you to 1996, I fear I must.

Already an author to contend with, having penned The Shape-Changer's Wife, Sharon Shinn's Angel Trilogy, I shall call them, burst onto shelves on bookstores and in homes everywhere.  She may have near single handedly had young women dreaming of angels again--and not in the Sunday school way.  Over the course of the next weeks, I'm choosing to review the original trilogy:  Archangel, Jovah's Angel, and The Alleluia Files.  Did Shinn actually write more books in this world?  Yes.  But the original plan was this arc, and so that's what I want to look at.  I'd also like to look at the books as they have a, dare I say it, a delicate fusion between fantasy and science fiction.  So, I will review each book, and then an overall.

Let's face it.  The angels are the rock stars of Semaria.  All the more because they pray to their God, Jovah, by singing.  The angels live in their own holds and take petitions from humans in need of weather problems solved, plagues to fix, and whatever other problems these silly humans get themselves into.  

In Archangel, Jovah chooses an Archangel to rule the lands for twenty years.  Gabriel has known since he was a child that when Raphael steps down.  Jovah also chooses the angelica/o--the Archangel's mate who will stand with him/her on the Plains of Sharon and sing--the most glorious singers--godly--with every kind of human.  If not, Jovah is supposed to get a little wrathful on their asses.  Despite the fact the angelica will be the second most powerful person in the world, and if she isn't leading the Gloria come Gloria-singing-time on the Plain, Jevoh will be deep frying his own world, Gabriel has put off going to the Oracle to find out who she is.  She is often a human girl living in an angel hold or a groomed human elite.

Sixth months before Gloria he flies to the Oracle (a human, actually) who can talk directly to God and get Gabriel's answer.  This form of communication  gives us the first look that we may not be in fantasy anymore, Toto.  If Jovah could laugh, which I doubt, he'd be busting a gut when he handed Gab's angelica's name to him.  From there, Gabriel just can't get out of catastrophes surrounding his wife-to-be.  That would be Rachel, who has lived from hell and, well.  Deeper into hell, and some more hell after that, can't conceive of an angel wanting anything of her--not that she can trust.  In fact, Rachel had some specific plans about her life once.  None of it involved leading a Gloria.

Before I go any further, I have to admit I originally read these books in the wrong order.  I read the last, The Alleluia Files on a whim on vacaction, got so excited I hotfooted it to the now mourned Border's and bought Archangel.  Then I stopped.  I never read the  middle or reread the end as I had planned.  However, since Shinn created such a fabulous confection of fused fantasy and sci fi it had to belong in my blogs.  So, determinedly, I start from the beginning and march right straight through to the end again this time.

Sharon Shinn has some of the most amazing world building abilities I have ever seen.  I'm also still surprised someone didn't firebomb her for her liberal use of the Bible--just tweaked a little--with so many angels and humans acting far from some people's supposed Godly.  Let's break in to say that I read a book with an angel on the cover.  I'm not an atheist by any means, but it is a testament to Shinn that I ever read these books.  I hate Hallmark angels, which is probably why I liked these.  She had the masterful ability to evoke, and yet not let us rest on our assumptions.  If I studied the Bible more, I'd probably have even more about her nuances in her, but I don't so let's move on.

She created the seeds for much to come in this book without out getting my hated series-syndrome where the important overall arc made this one feel watered to stretch the distance.  I teeter on saying that, though.  In this book, I feel like for the exception of one noble girl, if I say where they are from--what province, I can pretty much predict behavior.  All except the frowned upon, nomadic, enslaved, and so very obviously the only people of color in the book, the Edori.  Oh, wait.  They were all good.  Shinn delicately set up a complex world, including the hints of science fiction, that is obviously going somewhere.  I have to say that.  I am a character girl, not a world girl, so when I say her world creation could pretty much pull me through the book alone, that really says something.

But I'm a character girl, and this book so was not.  Every character except the two main basically had one dimension, if that.  Gabriel had the fatal Shakespearen flaw of being too proud and assertive about his thoughts, which of course, are flaws, we are told, his angelica was specifically chosen to compliment.  Or change.  Which saves us from a Shakespearen tragedy but puts us into my second to most hated way of loving someone in book (first involves violence.  Not sexy, consensual violence).  Rachel, understandably filled with rage and in deep need of a therapist after the life she's had, thinks she hates Gabriel but really loves Gabriel so she hates Gabriel.  Honest.  That's not a spoiler.  That's an um-duh effect.  Gabriel is just as bad.  Eventually we start working out those kinks and I won't spoil the ending, since who knows what way they will sort it out?  But I didn't feel a lot of growth here.  I felt sections where growth might of happened but it didn't go anywhere.  There was no arc to these two, together or apart.  I wanted to see some more solid break throughs that went somewhere, building, instead of falling back on the same behavior over and over.  I know that is the way we really progress, but she has six months and four hundred pages.  Chop chop!

So if I were a plot girl?  Let's just say the book got me once:  I was surprised at the first addition of science fiction.  I was still gripped enough by her story and world and even characters, so that I read how she created such a windy road because the how was interesting.  However, by craning my head a little, I could actually see every major plot point lined up in a row all the way to the last chapter.

Style girl?  My usual pet peeves.  She has this weird, disassociated style that comes from not grounding in any one character's voice in her scenes, quite often.  Instead of feeling close to everyone, I feel close to no one.

I know, I know.  I put the world stuff first so it looks like I panned her after that.  Remember when you look at this that a) her world building is some of the most amazing I have ever seen and that b) all these details I whined about:  the love/hate relationship, which I have been told many people don't mind or even like.  The fact the plot was put together in pretty predictable ways.  The fact she had some voice issues.  Most of the time, on a fantasy novel, I would simply ignore these.  Because I can tell how intricately and beautifully her mind works, I'm holding her to a higher standard.  Next up, Jovah's Angel.


  1. How about reviewing Sabriel and Lirael instead of the drec?

  2. Thank you for tackling this series. I also read the third book first, and then had trouble getting into the first two books. But--based on what you say, I will go back and take these books on in order. I laughed out loud while reading parts of your blog, but I'll take your recommendation seriously.

    I think it did take some guts to write these. My sister-in-law introduced me to Sheri S. Tepper, who wrote horror, mystery, and sci-fi (I would include fantasy) with feminist leanings that may have grown with her work for Planned Parenthood. The books I read of hers were really no holds barred takes on theology--angrier than Sharon Shinn's angel trilogy, and I was awed at Tepper's raw courage. But yes, I'm also surprised that I don't remember controversy connected with Shinn's work. I should look it up--but does anyone else remember?

  3. Rick, these books were NOT dreck (with a K).