The Mountains of Instead

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

Calling All Avenging Angels (Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee)

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1)Angelfall
Susan Ee
Hodder and Stoughton 2013

Six week after the Angels of the Apocalypse arrived to take over the world, things are looking pretty grim.  The Angels are neither an awesomely monikered biker gang nor anything to do with Pinky and the Brain but rather a horde of fearsome winged warriors whose ultimate aim is unclear but who are clearly Up To No Good.  In the midst of this new world is Penryn, a girl travelling with her disabled younger sister and unhinged mother – a mother for whom the new reality seems to make a disturbing amount of sense.  When Paige is snatched by a gang of Angels, Penryn finds herself allied with one of their number who is badly injured – indeed, who is wingless – on a quest to find out what lies at the heart of the horror around her.

Penryn herself is actually quite an interesting character as far as this story goes. Her back story has engendered in her a need to be pretty tough and certainly to be able to defend herself.   She’s entirely focussed on rescuing her sister and if this at times makes her seem rather one dimensional then perhaps this was intentional on the part of the writer – although when the lack of characterisation elsewhere in the book taken into account it seems unlikely.  Penryn’s schizophrenic mother, now well off her meds, is again rather one dimensional and is painted utterly insane.  It makes her a frightening and unpredictable force in Penryn’s story but a sensitive portrayal of a very real mental illness this is not.  Younger sister Paige is sweet but largely absent for the majority of the book.

Raffe, wingless Angel extraordinaire is, at best, vaguely amusing.  He is, supposedly and unsurprisingly, Swoooooony but in a way that is utterly unoriginal.   Good hair, piercing eyes, great abs yadda yadda yadda.  It’s all be done, done again and overdone and his snide comments and cold demeanour are also nothing new while his Tough Guy talk is excruciating.  His personal storyline is massively underdeveloped and the inevitable romance between him and Penryn lacks any emotional resonance.  Other characters come and go with the most intriguing (and only compelling) one being resistance member Obi.  Sadly, he’s not in it nearly enough.

The story running through Angelfall is primarily that of Penryn seeking Paige and Raffe attempting to get his wings sown on.  There is little more than speculation in terms of why the Angels have invaded earth other than there are probably some dodgy heavenly politics at the heart of it.  That and the Angel Gabriel appears to have been shot down over Jerusalem… bad move, humanity, Bad Move.  The world building is standard apocalypse/dystopia but Ee doesn’t try very hard with her description of a destroyed San Francisco going only as far as referencing the 1906 earthquake.  In terms of writing, it is the end of the book in which any real skill emerges.  Visions of an opulent nightclub populated by Angels in zoot suits followed by a climax which descends into out and out horror imagery bring the book to sudden life in a way that is sadly lacking prior to the last fifty pages.

Angel books, by and large, had run their course.  It’s all been done before.  Yet Angelfall garnered a real buzz prior to and since publication.  In all honesty, it’s hard to see why.  There is nothing original here, the writing lacks any real depth and if this is the next big thing then, quite frankly, we need to raise the bar on what counts as the Next Big Thing.  Readers looking for Angel inspired stories that really do try something different should check out the recently published Outcast by Adrienne Kress (review coming soon) or Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly series both of which offer more that this disappointing addition.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Angelfall is available now.


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