If you’re new to this blog, or need a reminder, I’m drawn to the following in books:
- YA from around the early 2010s at the height of the paranormal boom
- Bad YA (from around that era, quite often)
I’d actually, however, avoided picking up Fallen for a long time. It’s really, really easy to find in thrift shops and even libraries, and ticks all of the above boxes. However, I never grabbed it because… well, I’d already read it back in 2012. I hit it down as ‘DNF’ because it was boring. I think I got 100 pages in, but on reading the full thing here, I couldn’t tell you where I last stopped- the first 100 pages of this book is exactly the same as the next 350 pages, and it all blends together in a cacophony of bad.
I read it this time in two sittings while at work because I’m an adult now, but this is an extremely frustrating book to contend with. The supernatural revelation takes place 77% through the book, and even then the reader gets very few answers on anything that happened. This is a thick book of absolutely nothing but school life, and I wouldn’t even be able to parse some of the ‘lore’ and ‘story’ if not for the really bad movie made from this which somehow does a far better job delivering exposition.
A girl, Luce, goes to a new boarding reform school for really bad kids. She herself was involved in an incident which she has no memory of but resulted in a boy she was with burning to death horribly, and all her life she’s had constant hallucinations of shadows.
At this new school, everyone is somehow really interested in Luce. It’s a broken down and desolate place with about 80 students. She sees Daniel, who she feels is somehow familiar and is really interested in despite his constant rudeness, and she also hangs with Cam, the most popular boy in school and a bad boy who only treats her with respect.
True Premise (barely in the book)
Daniel is a fallen angel who a long time ago fell in love with Luce, a human. However, whenever he comes to love her or kiss her, she dies in some horrible way (usually supernaturally, like catching fire or attacked by shadows). Then she is reborn. This happens every 17 years without fail, no matter how Daniel tries to avoid her and reject her.
Meanwhile, most of the other students are also fallen angels. They’ve all chosen a side- god or lucifer- but Daniel, who chose love. They tend to clash and clique together, waiting for Daniel to finally pick a side so the end of the world, final battle can happen. But Daniel always ends up choosing Luce and love over that, trapping him and the others to eternity on Earth.
This cycle, Luce wasn’t baptized, so if she dies she won’t be reincarnated. Also, this time when they kiss, she doesn’t explode.
This book is so sparse on plot me writing the concise premises covered absolutely everything. Luce, who has no personality and doesn’t even speak very much, is fought over and adored by two extremely attractive boys, and everyone else constantly wants to chill with her or bully her. She arrives in school, and this book takes place over… who knows how long. A few months max, I would say.
She goes to classes, skips classes with Cam, hangs with her quirky nice human friend Penn, obsesses over Daniel, cyber-stalks Daniel, kisses Cam, Daniel/Cam fight, Daniel stops being a jerk but continues to be cold, Daniel/Cam fight, Daniel kisses Luce and she doesn’t die, Daniel explains the reincarnation thing, Daniel/Cam fight (with locusts), Luce finally pieces together Daniel is an angel, the religion teacher betrays her and kills Penn, Daniel flies Luce away and is like ‘I gotta go now’, and the book ends.
It’s notable most of this happens in the last 100 pages. I could break down the exact pacing, but it’s a lot of nothing. Parent teacher conference, a best friend who doesn’t matter, some needless jealousy drama, one or two dream sequences… it’s honestly mostly a contemporary book more than a supernatural one.
Where’s My Angels?
When I pick up a supernatural book, I want supernatural stuff in it. This book so doesn’t supply. We see them having wings/flying in one scene at the very end.
As mentioned, the revelation of the reincarnation thing/first confirmation of any paranormal element comes at page ~350 out of 450… and she confirms he’s an angel around 400. That is so incredibly late it makes Twilight’s “I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE” scene look well thought out. She doesn’t even technically learn Daniel is a fallen angel in this, and the book is literally called ‘Fallen’- someone says ‘we’re all fallen angels’, and Luce doesn’t even blink.
Before this, there are constant dark shadows which seem to haunt Luce and appear before disasters, and there’s the fact she has no memory about a horrible cabin fire that burned her old semi-boyfriend to death. However, we also learn from the get go Luce has been in therapy most of her life for having these visions, and been on anti-psychotics. We know, and Luce ‘feels’ the shadows are real, but this could easily be the tale of a girl with severe psychosis who rejects medication. I think when she was on meds they didn’t make the shadows disappear, but if you consider this as a story without supernatural elements- which it is for most of the book- then it’s just about a girl with mental health issues that have been undiagnosed and cause her serious illness and paranoia but refuses to seek any help.
I’m really touchy on books with weird anti-medication themes. This book doesn’t do much with Luce’s ‘I’m not crazy!’ thing or explore mental health, but there’s still this idea at the heart of it that if you have violent hallucinations, they’re probably real. The book does sprinkle in some fun offensive terms, dismissing the many kids at the reform school who are on meds as crazies and people to avoid.
The movie, since I saw it yesterday (it’s just on youtube for free) has the line “Even if it means being locked up, I’d rather be me than pretend to be something I’m not just to fit in” in a scene where Luce refuses to be medicated by the school doctor. This is shown as some powerful statement, while it really just sends a troubling message about how meds make you ‘pretend’ and exist to make you ‘normal and fit in’. This is a line from the movie, not the book, but the sentiment is shared between both: taking meds nullifies you from the real world and if you avoid them you’re way more raw and real and true. You see this message crop up sometimes and it sucks.
If you are prescribed medication, you should be taking it. There’s cases where it might not be the right med for you, but it often takes a few tries. Medication is really important in the treatment of physical ailments and mental ones. Mental illness is not raw or dark or deep, it just sucks and involves a lot of misery. Meds do not make you happy and boring, they make your brain work properly so you can live a way better life.
Take your meds.
The Trouble With Triangles
Alright, there’s been a thousand thinkpieces on this already, but let me weigh in on Fallen and its love triangle. And I suppose love triangles in general, though they are not all as bad as this one. In fact, a love triangle can be fun- you don’t see it often in YA, especially around this era of YA, but a character having multiple love interests who are interesting people and offer different paths of development for the main character can be entirely fine.
Around this era however, and in general, love triangles suck. I think I can solve why: the center of it is extremely boring. Luce, like many para-ro heroines, is passive and lacks much for personality. She’s emotional about some things but not others, and has little logic about any of her choices. Cam and Daniel are both generic boys too, where Cam is the ‘nice bad boy’ and Daniel is ‘afraid to love good boy’, but Luce is nothing but the crux at the center. What is she besides ‘girl they both love’?
While Luce’s lack of personality is a pain for her as a character, it actually matters more to Cam and Daniel. Simply, there’s no reason I can think of they both love her. She offers nothing. She’s smart, but has little personality or wit. She doesn’t do much. She barely does anything before Cam makes broad statements about what she wants or what is good for her. He pretty much immediately adores her. Daniel too is deeply in love with her, and she seemingly offers nothing.
Now, both have known Luce a whole lot over the centuries, though it is said she’s a bit different each time. Still, same soul, same sort of person overall. Fine. It’s still shocking to think back to like, Heaven. Daniel sacrificed his place as an angel for her? Her? I guess if you got to know a person every 17 years you would end up knowing them quite well and could grow fond, but on that same front, surely you’d grow a little bored? You’re an immortal youthful dude who is tired of watching the former love of your life explode every time you kiss. She comes back a bit different, but it’s pretty much the same girl each time. I think I’d get tired of her, after I’ve been alive since the dawn of time and met so many others.
There’s also this conceit in the book where Daniel says Luce ALWAYS falls in love with him, and he ALWAYS falls in love with her, which implies he really does see this new Luce as someone he isn’t immediately in love with, but comes to love. So he really just goes for this boring plain girl every 17 years, huh.
We hear this Luce has been alive for 17 years and 52 days, her longest life ever. What was her shortest? She’s born every 17 years- does that mean she ALWAYS live to at least 17, or that it’s 17 even if she dies at age 15?
Also, as always, we gotta touch on this idea of immortals who keep falling for underage girls and go to high school. It’s not actually explained why a bunch of fallen angels are just chilling at a reform school before Luce even gets there, and it’s a shock when Daniel first notices she’s there. He’s been avoiding her on purpose, and for some reason he happens to be at the same school. Admittedly it’s said they always find each other in every life, but if you know you always meet her when she’s 17, why would you hang out in a high school?
Go to college Daniel. She’ll show up then at like an open day but you don’t have to fall in love. You know what else, Daniel? You could just leave. She sees you at school? You just get on a plane and fly away before she has any reason or idea to try and stop you.
In Twilight, it’s super weird Edward and his siblings just keep going to high school despite being like 110 years old. In this, Daniel and the other fallen have been alive since the dawn of time, and yet they still chose to spend a lot of time in high schools and orphanages and half way houses. I get they look youthful and a bit like teens, but there are adults who look young.
Book 2 has a bonus chapter from Daniel’s POV from book 1 which rectifies this slightly. In that, it says the librarian who was an elder angel (and secretly evil) summoned him and the others. I guess Cam and his side just show up wherever Daniel goes to be dicks. So evil librarian probably knew Luce was incoming, and because she’s evil, wanted Daniel to stumble into her and kill her again. Daniel laments having to go to school in that one since he has learned everything ages ago. It’s really weird to me he, as a Fallen who famously chose love over a side, would listen to this non-fallen angel’s summons, but whatever.
Still, it remains that in the book there’s no real reason. That’s a bonus chapter from his POV and doesn’t count. In canon, there’s no reason why Daniel is just hanging out at a high school with all the other fallen. He just likes to lurk in bad high schools with troubled teens, I guess. Weird.
This book has too much weird angel lore in it, and also not enough angels. Yeah, Daniel and crew show up with wings for a short while, and gets to touch his wings a little. Whatever. Not enough.
Meanwhile, this book has things like ‘announcers’, which are shadows that uh… I guess just show up at important moments and send messages? The whole fallen crux, not even explained in this book, is weird too- Daniel and Luce are punished eternally, for some reason, for picking love over god I guess. But the other fallen ALSO are stuck in the same cycle until Daniel makes a choice? All the other fallen who failed to pick a side in the heavenly war are forced to eternally third wheel with Daniel. Did they even KNOW him in Heaven? Why does he get to be the special one.
This book comes courtesy with girl hate, slut shaming, and badness. One character is called a fembot and hated by the main character, even when the girl is nice and ends up a good guy, Luce still hates her voice and love of pink. She thinks this girl is dating Daniel, and again even when that is proven wrong, still is very catty about it.
There’s very frequent ‘jokes’ about the teachers having indeterminate genders, mostly the masculine Randy (who ends up being a woman, and is called like ‘he-she’ at one point). So that’s pretty transphobic. As mentioned, there’s also a lot of dismissal of kids on meds, as if they are ‘drugged-up’. I think the word ‘schizo’ is even used.
Overall, this book actually wasn’t as painful to read as you’d expect. I’ve said nothing good, but it wasn’t horrendously written beyond the plot. I liked the setting a lot of an overgrown, desolate school with a huge crumbling cemetery, and a pool inside a converted church. It was nice and gothic vibes for the setting. I also did like Penn, the supporting ‘quirky human friend’ character. She was a good person, had an actual personality, and possibly the most real character. Some of the descriptors were also nice, and the writing usually flowed okay, though it suffered from over-saying and over-explaining.