Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Through science, faith and force of will, the Harmonics carved out for themselves a society that they conceived of as perfect. Diverse peoples held together by respect for each other and the prospect of swift punishment if they disobeyed their laws. Fertile land that embraced a variety of climates and seasons. Angels to guard the mortals and mystics to guard the forbidden knowledge. Jovah to watch over them all…
But an age of corruption has come to the land, threatening their peace and placing the Samarians in grave danger. Their only hope lies in the crowning of a new Archangel.
The oracles have chosen for this honor the angel named Gabriel, and further decreed that he must first wed a mortal woman named Rachel, the daughter of Elizabeth and Seth. Gabriel is certain that the girl, an orphaned slave from a nomadic tribe, will greet the news of her betrothal with enthusiasm and a devotion. After all their love has been ordained by the god, Jovah, and the marriage means an incredible social advancement for her. Now he only has to find Rachel before the annual Gloria and convince her to cooperate: marry him and sing to appease the god.
Rachel, however, has other ideas…
Awecome Tasha/Heidenkind and Joanna/Melfka kind of recommended that one to me in their comments and I admit the temptation was great even if I was told the book featured angels. Perhaps you know it and perhaps not: angels are my personal pet peeve when it comes to fantasy. If I have to deal with flying sentient creatures I prefer dragons – far prettier and more devious. Still who I am not to yield to temptation? I duly borrowed the book (in Polish) and I started reading.
In order to do Archangel justice I would have to divide my digressions into two parts: one, concerning the romance story arc, and the second dealing with all the rest a.k.a. fantasy world build. Let me deal with the romance first. You know how I love carping about romance 🙂 .
The romance story arc of this novel roughly followed a scheme I would call Formula 1A (I’ve read enough to recognize the more popular clichés). A head-strong and willful, yet amazingly beautiful and talented slave girl met a noble but proud and brooding lord (lords are not so far from angels as presented by Ms Shinn but I’ll deal with that issue later). Why did they meet at all, against the odds? They had to – it’d been written in the stars/predicted by an oracle/ordered by a god; in other words it was Force Majeure with a capital F and M. Then they had to marry or the world as they knew it would end in a very nasty way. In other words no pressure folk but prepare your wedding clothes asap.
Initially, as their backgrounds were kilometers apart, they hated each other’s guts and quarreled like mad; still in the end they were finally coming together and realizing that they’ve learned to love and respect each other. Mainly, the male noble needed to swallow a good portion of his angelic pride – he begged and grovelled a bit before the stubborn girl relented. Mind you she did so only because he was really handsome…oups, he had a good heart of course.
Did it work for me? Not really – mainly because of the main female lead. Now a proper facepalm please.
Rachel was meant to be a strong, willful character, worthy of being chased after; still she came across as rather moody than strong, rather stupid than willful and extremely petty to add. She never gave an inch, she never tried to understand anybody, her husband, Gabriel, included. She acted as if everything should have revolved around her specific needs, which were always more important than the needs of others, and she treated almost everyone else horribly just because she finally could. After all who would punish the consort of a mighty Archangel? Soon she became a prime example of a reversed snob: only her tribesmen, servants, street urchins and hard-done-by wives deserved a nice word from her mouth.
I would be more willing to buy Rachel’s self-centeredness if she had some psychological problems like PTSD, but the author ensured it was not the case. The fact that Rachel was not only pretty enough to tempt an angel but also the ‘Bestest Singer Evah on Earth’ had to be the only explanation for her arrogance and stupidity. Oh well – I don’t have a lot of patience when it comes to reading about adult characters acting as spoiled emo teens – not even if they are presented as virtual geniuses. Gabriel was a really decent guy with truly inhuman patience and a host of vulnerabilities. Still he was too pliant; if I were him I would ask Jovah very nicely for a better version of his spouse – most possibly with a refund. An angel with a voice like Gabriel (a tenor!) would be heard and understood I presume.
So, what kept me reading? You guessed it right – the concept of the world, its religious and caste system. The world build, strongly influenced by the Old Testament but with many exotic twists, was indeed original and very interesting. It raised some intriguing theological implications given the nature of the divine being in question and his angels. Unfortunately all those were neglected and overshadowed by the pesky romance. By the way the angels worked for me better than usual because they were simply aristocrats with wings and an outstanding musical talent. Of course they could perform some miracles like sending rain to a parched area but they also had flaws – some of them were womanizers, some of them were greedy and power-hungry, eventually they could get old and die or even be killed.
Finally I am not a big fan of that cover art either. That girl looks simply as if she was chocking on a fishbone or trying to swallow a feather; silly, even though her position reminds me a bit of Gustav Klimt.
This book was almost good. Almost. And yet it wasn’t.
The narration was skillful, the setting definitely had a lot of potential but it is unfortunate that the author barely explored it, preferring to spin a formulaic romance story instead of something deeper. I’ve heard there are other parts of this series – I might check one of them later, just to see whether Ms Shinn was aware of the potential of her first book.
Oh, look what’s happened to my ‘meh’ kitten! ;p. The evolution is a fact!