“Angelfall” by Susan Ee

I knew vaguely of these books long before I actually got around to picking them up — they’ve got gorgeous covers, but for some reason I never stuck around long enough to read the blurbs. I’m not sure why. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was randomly browsing through to see if there were any cheap ebooks that appealed, and the first book was going for 99p. Figuring I didn’t have much to lose, I downloaded it and gave it a go.


Although this is essentially a paranormal romance novel, it’s the kind I like.I think there are two main types. The Twilight type features a world where supernatural beings are largely unknown and hidden, and so a proportion of the plot has to go to the discovery of that and adjustment to a new understanding of the world, as well as some clueless disbelief. It usually features falling for someone before discovering they aren’t human.

Then there’s the second type, seen in The Coldest Girl In Coldtown: a world that knows about these creatures, lives alongside them or in terror of them, and has changed dramatically as a result. These usually involve a first encounter between the human and the creature where they are enemies, but the distrust is slowly overcome as they fight together against a larger threat, and eventually realise they have feelings for each other that are complicated by their circumstances.

This type usually contains more worldbuilding, less instalust, and a more interesting plot — particularly where it’s the first book in a series, since we get to avoid the dull discovery period where the character is entirely clueless.

So, Angelfall is in the second category, and actually has remarkably little romance at this point. I can imagine it developing more in the sequels, which I would like to read but they’re significantly more expensive than book one on Kindle so they may have to wait until I track down library copies. However, as I’ve always said, I don’t mind slow-burn romance as it’s a lot more convincing. While this relationship did fall into a few tropes, it mostly avoided being cliched or generic, and was a long way from dominating the story.

Penryn, who wins the prize for weirdest character name of books I’ve read over the last few weeks, is a competent, independent character with years of self defence training to help her out in a post-apocalyptic world. It was nice to see a female protagonist who had survival skills AND a very valid reason for having them — her paranoid schizophrenic mother signed her up out of fear that she might one day unintentionally hurt her daughter, wanting to make sure Penryn could defend herself.

Her mother was actually a very interesting character, haunted by personal demons in a world overrun by real ones, but I don’t know how people with schizophrenia would have felt about the portrayal as I have very little experience of it. Penryn is mainly fighting on behalf of her little sister, who is disabled, and that made the story more relatable: she’s not in this for politics or saving the world, but to look after her family. That said, she ends up getting dragged into all that anyway…

The story is post-apocalyptic and set in a world ruled by scary homicidal angels. To be fair, humans opened fire on Gabriel when he turned up, and that (a) pissed off the angelic visitors and (b) created a power vacuum as the others try to fill the position of Messenger, the only archangel who talks directly to God. The theology is… intriguing. There’s enough solid stuff from Enoch not to annoy me (so many books about angels are drawn from generic pop culture rather than actual Biblical / extrabiblical and apocryphal texts), though Susan Ee has interpreted it her own way. I can imagine it getting banned by fundamentalist Christian schools in America, but for the most part that recommends a book rather than the opposite.

I should explain: I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to angels because not only did I go through a major Revelation phase when I was younger, but I’ve also written an apocalyptic novel and another novel that included angels, and as such found myself venturing into the Book of Tobit (an unknown entity in my Protestant upbringing) and the even stranger Book of Enoch (for the record, Enoch is a very annoying narrator). So I’m fussy about angel books.

But I liked how this handled it. Enough drawn from the source to feel authentic; enough new to feel original. Of course, my nerdiness meant that as soon as Raffe said his name I knew he was probably Raphael, which I thought was a fitting choice for an angel travelling alongside a human companion. (Cf: Book of Tobit.) 😉 But I didn’t know until later whether that was just a name, or whether it had all the archangel significance and so on.

Anyway. Moving on. The characters were, on the whole, pretty interesting and engaging, though some more than others. One thing that slightly bothered me was the sassy dialogue between Penryn and Raffe. Which will probably surprise regular readers, because you know I like sass, but in these days.of ubiquitous sassy YA characters, it felt a wee bit generic, and occasionally out of place. Particularly on Raffe’s part. I understood that Penryn was trying to pretend she wasn’t afraid of him, and sarcasm usually helps with that, but without knowing when or why the angels came to Earth, it seemed odd for him to speak in such a colloquial, human manner.

Maybe the background for the whole angels-on-earth deal will be explained in later books? That would probably help with this aspect, and with some of the other questions I had. Like I said, some of it was very funny, it’s just occasionally that seemed to jar with what else was happening. I think my favourite line would be:

“You are nothing but a bird with an attitude. Okay, so you have a few muscles, I’ll grant you that. But you know, a bird is nothing but a barely evolved lizard. That’s what you are.”

On the whole, I enjoyed the book, though some parts were kind of creepy and others were downright gross. (Cannibalism, just NO.) I’m intrigued to know where the story goes next, and I found some of the writing and imagery wonderfully evocative, while other parts amused me. I think I shared some quoted to Goodreads that are examples of one or the other. As I mentioned, this reminded me somewhat in tone and style of The Coldest Girl In Coldtown, which I love: while they don’t have a similar premise at all and the worlds are completely different, there’s just something about this that evoked that. And since I really like that book, I count that as a positive thing. So yeah, on the whole a pretty good read.

Rating: ****


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