Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn

That's right, Sherman, once more into the way back machine.  Though not so way back, as this is the final published book in Shinn's original angel trilogy.

This book is where I began.  Not with Archangel, where I should have and is an archived review.  Not with Jovah's Angel, which I never had read until I decided to study this series.  Reading Alleluia Files, I fell in love with Samaria, angels who can be petty and cruel as much as holy and godly, where Jacobites were a cult that believed the god Jovah was a spaceship, and there was no God.

I don't feel bad about that, because in my writer's heart and mind, this is where I believe Shinn began as well.  Books are funny things.  They don't come to writers whole.  For me, a character usually forms in my head, and I wander around with this person in my head as slowly the world coalesces around him or her.  Some writers start with a world or a plot.  Only Shinn could tell you where she began.  Maybe she began with Tamar, a fierce, defiant rebel with a price on her head--willing to die for her cause, but belately noticing the quiet help she has been given all along her journey.  Maybe once Tamar formed, Shinn found Samaria, where angels ruled--ultimately the archangel and the religious guidance of their God, ultimately a very sophisticated spaceship that Tamar and her fellow Jacobites wanted to uncover for the truth.  Was it then that Jared, the lazy, drifting angel came into Tamar's life as her staunch supporter--of her, for her love, not for her mission?  Or did he come before the world--the plot?  It could have been that Lucinda, a naive and sheltered angel, usually underestimated.  Tamar's diametrically opposed twin, down to the fact Lucinda had wings?  Did Lucinda or Tamar open the door to the land of Ysral, where the Edori and engineers had retreated to and the Jacobites sought shelter?  Was Bael, the murderous Archangel in there before all of this, or only when Shinn finally added her villain to this tale? Maybe the stark and brilliant climax bringing her cast together was the first moment in her mind.

We're 100 years away from Alleluia and Jovah's Angel.  We're 250 years away from Gabriel being Archangel.  They are still with us as references to history, bloodlines and of course, Alleluia's famous files that the Jacobites believe will shed the final light on the mechanical nature of God.  Whereas technology was only seen as Godly or the first settlers bequeaths in Archangel, and a slow process of advances and mistakes in Jovah's Angel, Caleb, that engineer above all with a little not so holy help created a school to jump technology into fast forward since we've last seen, though Bael now suppresses it.  The story consists of an delicately interwoven plot of Tamar, Jared, and Lucinda's overlapping voices telling us overlapping events.

Of course Tamar and Jared's Kisses, technological or God created implants, riot with color when they are near, as all true lovers (or genetically matched people) should.  Interestingly, Lucinda and Tamar's worlds also begin to overlap--in dream and in music and sensation when Tamar has her Kiss implanted.  Tamar has lead a bleak and bloody life, held together by absolute belief, and I loved her for it.  I loved her for finally realizing her life hasn't been as independent as she thinks.  Oddly, she does make a good match for the aimless Jared.  His ability to allow a more kind, gentle world, and more--his frustrating and inscrutable to Tamar's angel negative world to a) want to know the truth as well and mostly b) his relentless quest to keep her safe whether she likes it or not--give Tamar a chance to open up all those sides of her life she has never let herself have.  She ridicules him once for having not having a cause he is willing to die for, but she gives him one--her.

At this point I have to stop and say in some ways I believe Jared more than Tamar, though given her life her world view is completely understandable.  I believe an alive proponent, though slightly quieter, is way more useful than a martyr.  To me, even Ghandi and Jesus did their best work when they were alive.  However, I stand by Jared's answer.  There are a number of people in my life I wouldn't think twice about dying for.

Also, I notice Shinn plays a bit of a fast one with traditional female literature by conking Tamar hard on the head so that Jared nursing her through a concussion can help her come around to him.  In feminist lit crit., it has been noted that early female writers had and still have sometimes, a tendency to wound their male lead to put the female character on equal footing.  Think of poor Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre.  Shinn has reversed this.  The only way she could think of for Tamar to learn to quit fighting was to take the ability away from her for a while.  It's a fascinating inverse, and though I want to be snide for her use of this old method, I have to say the Tamar she created may have needed to be conked on the head, however much I wish she and Jared could have opened up to each other some other way.

I haven't spoken yet much about Lucinda, spirited away to an island in the middle of the ocean by her aunt to protect her from Bael.  Her mix of innocence and strong headed intelligence is great fun, and it isn't hard to see how she will fit into the plot--especially when she takes an Edori lover--but for most of the book I became frustrated with her for all I loved her as she interrupted my Tamar and Jared story.  She also, even as she was lovingly crafted, stood out a bit as a plot device.  From the moment she entered, you pretty much knew where she was going.

Again, I love the overlapping style of voices.  That takes a lot of skill and craft to create without it becoming jarring or annoying.  It also gives a chance to see into each characters head and helps us understand why and where and whatfor of their lives.  Occasionally I felt she spent a little too much time overlapping, especially on Tamar and Jared's meetings and odd series of near misses.  She tended to repeat a little too much information at times that we'd already gotten from another pov.  It meant we ended up discovering the same facts and having the same conversations multiple times.  It could get a little trying.  But better too much than too little in this situation.

This book did contain more politics than the other two, and the other two contained politics, so this is just the more so.  Some people love political intrigues and sparring.  It bores me sick.  But that's just me.  I'd rather get back to Lucinda learning her history or Jared and Tamar's evolving bond.

The climax of the book was spectacular.  Tight gut and fingers gripping the book so hard it could have ripped, only to come to a brilliant, cohesive, stunning end.

Unfortunately the book did not end there.  I admit, an epilogue was due.  She needed a celebratory dinner where a few things were explained, the what-do-we-do-nexts somewhat sketched in as she could not resolve all of them.  One final place for some of the characters to come to a reckoning on their relationships, but that all could have taken one, maybe two scenes.  She spent a lot longer on nailing down little logistics when some planning over a bottle of wine and a well-we-have-to-wait-and-see would have worked.

Now on to looking at the arc of the three books.  As I said, I read this one first, and was so thrilled I went back to Archangel.  Not so thrilled.  Nothing wrong with the book per se.  It just left me feeling like, really?  Are we really going to do this each time?  Flawed angel learns valuable life lessons from scrappy, oppressed girl--whose Kisses, by the way, flare like crazy?  The answer is pretty much yes.  Caleb in Jovah's Angel was male, but had his own bitterness about God.  And still taught Alleluia valuable life lessons.  Despite the fact the writing was great and I liked the characters (except in Archangel), I felt a little Hallmark.  Is this all Jovah does?  Find some flawed angel and stick the perfect solution to them?  I thought he worked on genes.

  Which brings me to my other doubt.  That crazy Jovah, apparently on genes alone, can tell a hell of a lot about a person.  Many things which I don't believe it can.  My psych degree leaned my heavily to a nature and nurture combination.  Ones environment can literally rewire the way your brain works.  Genes may supposedly tell far more than we can currently extract from them, but they can not tell how this person's life will unfold.  I'm willing to believe magic or a holy touch can stay apprised of these things, as they are completely uncharted territory that you get to make up in fantasy.  But I don't believe genes map out everything in your life.  I know.  Even the little we know of genes, I have seen people with supposed genetic codes overcome or succumb to them.

I know I've complained about it before but I'll do it again.  I'll buy the angels, being a different kind of being and generally the same sort of growing up have certain similarities, but these other races are driving me nuts.  Luminaux is always beautiful and good, as are the people there.  The whole world changes, remembers itself, forgets itself--Luminaux won't budge.  It's a city but I've never heard of a slum.

My main gripe--what is up with those Jansai and Edori?  The Jansai go from slavers, to owners of disgusting factories that utilize children, back to marauding, murdering mercenaries.  They are also described as the gypsies, so I keep picturing them Middle Eastern or East European.  Anyway, can these people do anything right?  I'll put up with it that they might be bad for a century or so, or that they were unrelentingly bad at the same thing.  But whatever sucks lands on the Jansai heads.  Give me one, just one Jansai who lowers his sword and walks away from killing a Jacobite.  Just one that left the Jansai murdering business because he wanted to play the flute in Lumanazi.

The Edori are just as bad.  The darkest race, the race with different religious beliefs (slightly), the constantly persecuted race--finally you do see a few get angry, but they keep on getting described as the most happy, complacent, laid back big families in the world.  Why don't you stick a watermelon in their mouths and have them tap dance with Shirley Temple and just call the thing done?  Except they were put on reservations, too.  So I suppose small pox blankets are in order.

Plus, I really can't figure it out.  Obviously there are generations between, and generations of Archangels that we do hear about that this isn't true of, but is the mate of the Archangel EVER not Edori?  By this time Edori angels must be wandering around.  Are these angelicas and angelico absolutely so ineffective that they could not get any laws passed to improve the state of their people?  Gabriel and Delilah are lauded as visionary Archangels.  Yes, Gabriel got rid of slavery, but he was going to do that anyway.  He couldn't be strong armed by Rachel to do more?

The world building that I so lauded as fantastic gets a little messy as the series goes on.

At the end of every book, as we get closer to the truth, someone always talks about how they believe in some god, even if they don't know what.  I admire it in that it sets forth a faith that goes beyond everything they have been taught.  In fact, learning lessons in different types of faith of one kind or another really form the theme of the books.  This I greatly admire.  A solid arc of theme.  That is a rare and beautiful thing these days in a book, much less a trilogy.  I do feel as if she didn't quite trust us to get it.  It is hammered home each time when all we needed was a slight push.

Alleluia Files remains my favorite, though I have grown quite fond of Jovah's Angel.  Archangel still leaves me a bit cold, but that is my own private annoyance with the main characters.  Some of Shinn's repeating motifs in the dynamics of relationships I cannot help but feel is carefully crafted.  I admire the symmetry between the novels, even if I occasionally get annoyed by her echos.  She successfully completes not only an arc in each novel, but an arc across the trilogy.

Shinn's work truly belongs in it's own class.  While a steady revelation of science fiction elements occurs, the book is built on a strong foundation of fantasy archetypes and tropes.  She is a fantasy fusion artist.

By the way, anyone who can tell me what Sherman and the way back machine reference, I'll give you a copy of Rebirth, my second book.

1 comment:

  1. "I admire it in that it sets forth a faith that goes beyond everything they have been taught. In fact, learning lessons in different types of faith of one kind or another really form the theme of the books."

    That's from this review, of course, and a perception that helped me. Somehow, with all the conflicts and the gut-clenching ending of Alleluia Files, I was stuck more in a Star Wars battle mode from these books. I found myself thinking, "yes, flexing as well as fighting is critical to these book. Good review!