Monday, October 24, 2011

Jovah's Angels by Sharon Shinn, & more character

Getting the character out of the way quickly for once, for those of you who can't get enough about character driving a book, hit the link to my article at Mythic Scribes:

So we're jumping back into the wayback machine for a lovely ride to our dear friend Sharon and her rascally angels and mortals in that sci fi/fantasy fusion blend novel Jovah's Angel.  We left Sameria as Semaria about 150 years ago.  We've had hints like computer screens meshed up with these song obsessed angels to belt it aloft to pray to Jovah for anything from weather help to medicines.  Flash forward and Jovah isn't listening to the angels.  Rains, storms, and tornados ravage the countryside.  Crops fail.  Mortals get rebellious.  Industry has started.  Hydroelectric damns and steam grimy and grim factories.  As usual, everyone is mean to the Edori and I think they might stop smiling about it a couple of times, even.

The incandescent, brass and brilliant young Archangel Deliah flies into a storm, which bats her like a cat toy.  She ends up with a dead angelico (her Jovah appointed, pitch perfect, and politically important husband), who she was carrying, and a busted wing that can't be healed so that she flies.  Poor Alleluia, who didn't grow up among the angels, who is quiet and hates public singing, is named the next Archangel by the interface (*cough*computer*cough*) to her horror and everyone's confusion.  Alleluia has months to go before the Gloria, no angelico and a cryptic answer from the *cough*computer*cough about who, she's terrified of politics--the only thing she has going for her is that the torrential reigns still calm at her voice whereas other angels fail.  Then the ancient, ancient technology of the music rooms (room with nice CD system) breaks.

That leads Alleluia to Caleb, who is an engineer in Luminex.  We've been following Caleb, his fellow inventor and friend Noah, an Edori and the re-emergence of a sultry and self destructive Delilah, now singing at a club for a while, but finally Alleluia meets Caleb, Kisses start flaring (telling your true love) and it is a race to not just save the world, but help each other save our hearts, minds, and souls.

I'll give a flip flop on Jovah's Angel from Archangel.  The intricate, brilliant world building in the first book got sloppy.  She stumbles, pushing current mortal technology to cause what she wanted, mostly for what to be some rather strained social commentary.  Caleb being an engineer, and therefore the world having made some technical advances are vital.  For her movement through time and her constant play between magic and fantasy versus science, I can tell she's trying to work these into her whole arc, but it is getting a little awkward.  Plus, she is either being purposefully manipulative, or she needs to read some anthropology and sociology about what happens when the Industrial Revolution revs into things like factories.

In Archangel, her delicate twists of science fiction were exciting, especially as you looked forward to the unveiling.  They were so magnificently set into an unknowing culture with a magical tinge to them.  In Jovah's Angel, the sci fi is handled with the clumsiness of a novice juggler who, in the end, drops all her balls into near on cliché.  The end involves a near excruciating section of learning more about their world in a nails on chalkboard passive way--especially since she had so beautifully hinted at all this so we knew it anyway, with a passive Alleluia as our vehicle.  The only subject which is a bit of an eyebrow raiser involves nature versus nurture, and her book comes way too far on nature for my need for a good "and" instead of "vs".  Angels, magic singing, oracles, I wouldn't and don't blink at.  Specific supposed uses of geneologies?  You have to be shitting me.  She's obviously far more comfortable in the fantasy world, and as geeked as I was to see how everything meshed, I'm now a little sad it did.  It was like great flirtation followed by mediocre sex.

But, like I said, in my topsy turvy, although the world building was much more solid in Archangel, I had way more fun with Jovah's Angel.  Why?  I liked the characters.  Alleluia, bookish and struggling to get away from this dubious honor of chosen second and late, still blossoms--coming into her own in political situations though she never had the years to train for.  She is intelligent, quick witted, and though not much of what one thinks of as far as an Archangel, she has her own, quiet charisma and easy humor.  For all in the end she clings a little too near and dear to her old rules, up until that point she's had no problem in quietly not just thinking and working outside the box, but most likely folding the box up for recycling.  Delilah is well painted, but her sarcasm and purposeful destruction now that she cannot fly, or be any angel, much less Archangel, but I felt it coming, and wish I had felt it leaving far before I did.  Caleb is amusing, inquisitive, and not only thinks out of the box, but uses it as materials for one of his experiments, but the moment you read his name, you know exactly where he is going, from beginning to end of story.  Noah, being Edori, is of course cheerful and unflappable, but, thank God, gets himself into an unlikely relationship and actually spends some of the novel angry and miserable.  Whew.

Part of the change is simpler:  I like these people.  They don't annoy me.  However, I feel as though she has gotten her character writing stretches done and is getting more fluid and apt as well.

Plot?  Again, I'll say I'm a character girl.  Most of the time, as long the character arcs and characters make  me happy, I don't care that much.  This time I was annoyed because the plot problems involved the characters.  I felt like Sharon Shinn felt like her characters, and me with them, needed to be played like a trout:  let it run and then reel it in, over and over.  We all knew where this book was going.  The characters, despite they were quite smart and had initiative, had to keep playing stupid and taking the old two steps backwards and one forwards until the very end when everyone was doing three legged races at a county fair--falling over themselves and each other to get to the end.  She crammed a lot into, and underdeveloped the last *cough*stunning*cough* section, while the first three quarters didn't need nearly as much time spent--some time, yes--but not SO much time spent there.  I feel as if the last section would have been a little more graceful and not fallen quite so to telling instead of showing if she had just moved it up in her plot.

At the end of the day, I wonder if part of the problem is middle book syndrome.  The author knows where they want to start.  Knows where they want to end.  But it's supposed to be a trilogy and she has to have a book happen in there.  I feel as if the somewhat uneven problems with the technology and science fiction, the awkward hokey pokey of a plot in this book represent a push towards the story she really wants to tell to bring these books to the culmination.

Probably the other two or more well crafted books.  And I realize I stated some annoyances with this book, but you know what?  I'm still a character girl, so my heart is sticking here for now.    


  1. I haven't read either of these books by Shinn, but from the reviews here it seems to me I would better spend my time by rereading Peter S. Beagle and Diana Wynne Jones (also reviewed on this blog) again and again and again and again

  2. I like the sound of the characters. As I've said, haven't read this particular book before, but it sounds like a good book to read, snuggled under a blanket on a cold night, and luxuriating in reading about characters feel real to me. I can get through all sorts of plot bumps if I care about the people in the car.

    I wonder if publishers (are there still publishers?) ask writers to do this with books in a series . . . make each book can stand alone, figuring faithful readers will soldier on through repeated explanations.