Anne Rice’s body of work plays a huge role in my history as a reader, and in fact was one of the “gateway drugs” that led me to fantasy. I discovered her books the summer before I left for college and spent the next several years procrastinating my studies all too often in favor of devouring her backlist. And a hefty backlist it was; her old books kept me busy for several years. The first one I read “new” was Pandora. Then, in the late nineties and early 2000s, Rice began to change her style and her portrayals of favorite characters, and I didn’t like her new books as much. I’d heard that her new Songs of the Seraphim series marked a return to her old writing style. Curiosity and nostalgia convinced me to give Angel Time a shot.
Angel Time’s protagonist is Toby O’Dare, a skilled hitman who has just been assigned to make a kill in his favorite hotel. He loves this hotel and hates the idea of sullying it with his unpleasant profession. The beginning of the novel moves at a snail’s pace as Rice lingers over the description of the hotel.
Eventually, though, the hit occurs, and shortly thereafter an angel appears to Toby. This angel, Malchiah, wants to recruit Toby for an important task. Toby doesn’t believe at first, but Malchiah shows Toby a vision of his life and how it’s led him to this point. This backstory is compelling at first, but soon begins to sound really familiar. This is the backstory of Michael Curry from The Witching Hour. Obviously, the details are different, but the rhythms of its telling are the same, and the highlights are all here: the childhood among Irish alcoholics, the saving power of music, the first girlfriend, the family tragedy that precipitates a departure from New Orleans… Instead of restoring old houses, though, Toby takes a very different path.
Toby never quite coalesced as a character for me. Part of this is because I kept thinking of Michael during the backstory. Even beyond that, though, he feels “all over the place.” He’s an assassin, and he plays the lute, and he kind of wants to be a monk, and in one of Rice’s better books all these traits would add up to a complex character. Here, they seem like several different characters crammed into one, and this isn’t helped by his sudden moment of conversion. Just when he almost comes into focus, he changes drastically and instantly as a result of his salvation.
The second half of the book, in which Toby is sent back in time to medieval England to save a Jewish couple accused of murdering their daughter, is better. Rice gives a well-researched portrayal of the anti-Semitism of the period and introduces several interesting characters. Rice’s writing has some recurring flaws and quirks, though, and the usual suspects are in evidence; namely, a high talk-to-plot ratio and backstory-to-plot ratio. I did find the end of the time-travel sequence interesting. It seems like an intentional inversion of Lasher’s first death scene, in which he looked for the divine but found only emptiness in that moment. What happens here is very different and almost certainly reflects Rice’s own shift in beliefs.
The writing style does indeed come close to that which she employed in her early novels. Using heavy description and deliberate repetition, Rice creates a languid, hypnotic mood. The prose is especially beautiful when Malchiah takes Toby through the eponymous “Angel Time,” a time-out-of-time through which the characters travel from the present to the past.
So, what did I think of Angel Time? It displays some of the chronic flaws of Rice’s work while lacking that intangible spark in character or plot that would overcome these flaws. It’s also a little preachy in places. On the other hand, I’m intrigued enough to try book two, Of Love and Evil.
Songs of the Seraphim — (2009-2010) Publisher: It’s the present day. Toby O’Dare — aka Lucky the Fox — is a contract killer of underground fame on assignment to kill once again. He’s a soulless soul, a dead man walking. His nightmarish world of lone and lethal missions is disrupted when a mysterious stranger, a seraph, offers him a chance to save rather than destroy lives. O’Dare, who long ago dreamt of being a priest, seizes his chance. Now he is carried back through the ages to thirteenth-century England, to dark realms where accusations of ritual murder have been made against Jews, where children suddenly die or disappear. In this primitive setting, O’Dare begins his perilous quest for salvation, a journey of danger and flight, loyalty and betrayal, selflessness and love.