(About the rating: This book gets three stars, but the rest of the series is all five stars. I’ll probably review them later, and will address why this one is much lower, but let it be known: these are good books.)
Ever since I found the wonder that was mallworld*, I’ve been really riding on that fantastical hope that mysterious second hand bookstores are going to lead me to obscure and lovable stories. I don’t really think that ideal is true or false right now- it’s just my way of saying I picked this book off the shelf for two bucks and with zero expectations.
It didn’t disappoint, only because there was nothing to be disappointed with.
The book is set in a super religious future where every most countries are theocracies in some way. The United States recognizes Christianity and Judaism and various sects of, but that is roughly it. Ever other country has some form of theocracy except Russia due to the aftermath of a biological world war.
Also, everyone is constantly connected to the internet in their minds.
Also, angels are real.
Also, the main character (washed up cop turned PI) had her last partner shoot the Pope.
It’s weird, but you do sort of get into it. Oddly, the characters are… good? The story is… quite interesting? For some reason, I kept thinking it was written in the 90s or even late 80s instead of 2001. It feels very timed and old somehow, with its vision of a sort of cyberpunk future. There’s a lot of 90s and early 00s culture evident, even though this is set far in the future.
The writing is hilarious in the beginning, but tones itself down pretty fast. When we first meet Michael, our supposed love interest, the couple paragraphs describing him are pure gold, but after that point (less than 10% in), the laughs stopped coming.
The rough of the plot, before I blab too much, follows Deidre McMannus. She’s a washed up cop whose former partner killed the Pope. She had her mind-internet removed because of this (LINK, it’s called), but is investigating the incident on her own. One day, all around the world, people begin to report angels sighted on the LINK- they claim to be Actual Angels, independent beings who have the power to cause real emotional sensations to anyone who crosses their path. Also around this time, Deidre meets Michael, who is..
Well, very clearly the Archangel Michael, though she’s a bit slow on picking this up. Still, he wants the LINK angels investigated, as he doesn’t think they’re the real things.
Mysteries! Crime! Noir elements! Romance! Angels! Tech! It’s a lot of stuff.
The super religious world the story takes place in is confusing as heck, as are the politics. It seems at first like America has all sorts of religions accepted, they’re just more like political parties. Then later, it seems more like the whole place is only Christian. At one point, I feel like it’s implied Judaism isn’t accepted. Some details seem inconsistent, and though you can grasp the politics just enough to follow the main plot, a lot of things feel lost.
While many concepts are interesting (the author clearly knows a lot about religious lore and prophecy of all kinds), they are rarely written in a way that is easy to follow.
The mind-internet (LINK) is hell to follow also. The main character, Deidre McMannus had it removed, so we don’t see a lot of LINK stuff- even when she gets it back, she can’t use it because she’s a wanted person. Only at the climax does it suddenly see a lot of use- and is hard to follow, because we’ve never seen it before and have no context to understand what’s going on.
The writing is far from perfect, as mentioned, but the series gets 100% better past this book. In fact, I would nearly suggest skipping this if it doesn’t click with you. While you’d miss some key intros and a bit of plot, the second one focuses on a different cast of characters entirely.
Props: There’s a lot of non-white characters, and even some non-hetero ones. There aren’t any harsh stereotypes, and all religions are portrayed equally valid.
For example, each of the archangels is shown to represent a different religion: Michael is roman catholic, Gabriel (Jibril) is black Muslim, Raphael is pretty-sure Jewish, and Uriel is a buddhist. Yes, the abrahamic ones get top treatment (with our leading man being christian), but religion is very much treated with no favoritism. Actually, later books are mostly about Islam and Judaism, and one of the main characters (and the best one) is a Muslim.
The author was brought up in a unitarian church, and the religious tones are well researched and informed, both spiritual at times but never in a way that’d put off an atheist. It’s fairly open ended for a book where angels are real.
The actual discussions of gender and orientation are really nice in this book, actually, like a very unexpected surprise. The book loses points for having a gay man utter the words ‘Girlfriend, I’m gay’, but it does gain some for letting the male love interest express he’s bisexual, followed by a nice conversation on the gender of angels and of God (who is referred to with ‘She’, ‘He’, AND ‘They’!)
Last note: The book feels unfinished. The conclusion happens fast, and then we get a timeskip. We don’t learn the motivations of the villain, we don’t learn what happened to many of the characters. There’s a lot of weird gaps and uncertainty, even if the very basic level of the plot is done.
NOW, AS SOMEONE WHO HAS READ THE FULL SERIES:
Don’t let my criticisms of this book get you down. Please read it! It’s an obscure book with increasingly lgbt characters (by an lgbt+ author), about angels and not afraid like too many others to tackle religion, borderline educational about religion, and set in a very unique world.
What do I like about it?
Huh! The characters are strong. By the end of the series, they’d about become my family, which is rare for an interloper like me. The religion/prophecy stuff (in the series later more than this book) is very interesting, educational, right up my wheelhouse. The world is cool, and the atmosphere is very much noir cyberpunk.
And I love angels! And I love to read about angels. So that’s great too.