The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Lord, I Feel Like An Angel (Review: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand)

Cynthia Hand
HarperTeen 2011

I am quite seriously getting a bit sick of Nephilim. They seem to be flitting about the YA shelves with their feathery wings and angel-complexes and to my mind it's all getting a bit silly. Apart from the Shadowhunters, all the Nephilim can fly away. Well, except maybe the ones in Unearthly which is a fun, refreshingly different offering from debut writer, Cynthia Hand.

Protagonist Clara is sixteen and angelic. Well, a quarter angelic, really. Up until the age of fourteen, she lived a perfectly normal life then one day her mum took her aside, showed her her wings and explained that she would eventually receive visions detailing her life's purpose. Yep, every Angel-Blood (as the Nephilim are termed in this particular story) is given a heavenly quest. Rather inconveniently, said quest is filtered down from heaven in a number of confusing visions leaving the winged ones to figure out exactly what it is they are meant to do (I believe that N. Gaiman and T. Pratchett would refer to this logic as ineffable). When Clara's visions start, all she has to go on is a forest fire, a silver car and a hot boy who appear to be converging somewhere in Wyoming.

Clara herself is a great character. She's funny without being snarky, bemused by her heritage without having an attitude and regularly embarrasses herself when trying to figure out exactly who and what her visions pertain to. At first I thought that she was one of these characters who moans about being plain when she's actually gorgeous, but no – Clara just has normal insecurities about her looks and personality. I liked her a lot. Her friends and family are also an enjoyable bunch. Her mum and brother clearly provide her with a lot of comfort, being the only others who know of her angel status. Her mum can be a bit frustrating and all knowing, but that's clearly key to the storyline. Her brother, younger than her, is still struggling with the recent revelation of his heavenly ancestry and is quite possibly in danger of slipping to the dark side (because you can't have angels without having a heavenly war, right?).

Friends Angela and Wendy are obviously designed to highlight the conflicting sides of Clara's personality. This could have been clunky and over obvious (one of my pet peeves is friends as plot devices) but the two girls are so completely likable that it works really well. Angela is particularly interesting and I don't altogether trust her, although there seems to be little reason not to. Obviously, you can't really have an angel book without a love interest – it's like the rules, man. In this case we have Christian, who is hot, broody and has a girlfriend. None of which stops Clara drooling over him hilariously. Filling out the cast in surprising ways is the lovely Tucker, who adds some welcome bite and made me consider Rodeo cowboys in a way I didn't think I ever would.

Plot wise, Unearthly maintains a nice steady pace while slowly building to a hugely exciting climax. The book has it's own lexicon of angel terminology, none of which I'd heard before and the world building is skilled. The storyline itself twists and turns and I was genuinely surprised at the route it finally took. I'd like to talk more about what happens but it's impossible to write much without spoiling it for those of you who haven't read the book yet. This is not a stand alone novel (are any of them anymore?) and the ending leaves us not so much on a cliffhanger as on a shadowy overlook with many questions to be answered and a hint of darkness to come.

I am continually surprised by the mad skills of debut authors – last year many of my favourite books were by new writers – and Cynthia Hand is no exception. Her writing is straightforward yet imaginative, her characters speak in believable voices and her plot is well thought out and fantastically good fun. She also adds more than a hint of darkness, playing it off against the beautiful scenery of Wyoming in a truly skillful manner. Most importantly she takes an idea that is rapidly becoming tired – yes, Nephilim, I'm talking about YOU – and breathes new life into it. This is one angel series that I won't be sorry to see perching on the bookshelves, and if you see it sitting there then pick it up and enjoy a lovely read.

Unearthly is available now. Thank you to HarperTeen for sending me a this title to review via NetGalley.


Unknown said…
I have really had my fill of paranormal books but after reading your review, I will certainly pick this up if I see it. I like that it doesn't sound exggerated and I love the idea of an angel having a quest.
Unknown said…
OMG I want it now.
I adore paranormal & can read it til to comes out of my ears *sigh*
I love your review & I cant wait to get my hands on a copy *rings library*
I liked this one too, great review!
Lauren said…
I'm still having mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I need a breather from angels and I probably wouldn't have picked this one up. On the other... well, you enjoyed it, so I probably would. And I'm all about the world building, so I'm not ruling this one out.
Splendibird said…
@lauren and @becky At the end of the day it is still another angel book, but I liked the story telling and nothing really went the way that I expected it to, which is something I see less and less in paranormal. It's an easy and often quite funny read with a good dollop of romance and twistiness too.
Ok, you have just convinced me that I now want to read this. Like you I was getting sick and tired of the whole Angel/Nephilim lore in YA books lately and have actively made the decision to avoid them for a while. You've just gone and undone all my promises I made to myself :) Loved everything about your review and cannot wait to Clara! She really does seem like a fantastic MC!
Ah. I don't know. I'm with the others, I'm kind of tired of angel books. Will probably still read this one, because your review does make me a little excited about it, but won't rush myself..
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