fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAngelfall by Susan EeAngelfall by Susan Ee

It’s six weeks past the apocalypse, where armies of angels have wrought destruction upon the major cities of the earth. Penryn has been hiding in a condo in the suburbs of San Francisco with her paranoid schizophrenic mother and wheelchair bound little sister. When their food runs out, she knows they are going to have to try and escape to the hills where hopefully they can find more supplies. But on their way, they get stopped by a band of dueling angels, one of whom gets his wings cut off. And when the victorious angels steal her little sister Paige and fly off with her, Penryn knows that the only way she will get her sister back is by making a deal with the devil. Or at least a wounded angel.

Angelfall by Susan Ee starts out very well. We get a good sense of Penryn as a character, why she has the skillset she has, and the burdens that she carries, both literally and metaphorically as the one fully functional member of her family. You also get a hint of the complexities playing out in the angel community as they deal with the logistics of being an invading army where their Messenger, the archangel Gabriel, has been killed. Penryn and Raffe’s flight to the mountains is also compelling, as is their encounter with the human resistance army gathering in the hills.

Where the first half of the story is quite engaging, the second half misfires in several places. There are obvious factions within the angel community, and I think a more in-depth explanation of what is going on is necessary, rather than the clunky exposition we got. There is obviously a lot of history between the main characters, and that needs additional fleshing out, both to make Raffe more realistic and to understand the factions that are warring amongst each other. I literally spent an hour after I finished the book researching the archangels trying to figure out how the character configurations I saw would make sense, and I still couldn’t figure out how one of them has anything to do with this story. But, this is a series, PENRYN & THE END OF DAYS, and I have hope that these storylines will be fleshed out in the sequels.

Additionally, the budding romance between Raffe and Penryn felt rushed. On the run for your life seems like a good time to develop lust, but true love takes a little bit longer, and takes more knowledge of each other than these two characters have currently. The villain seems a little bit over-the-top evil, and there’s some really awkward exposition and monologuing that occurs. I think this book would have benefited from being about fifty pages longer, because it would have given Ee time to fully flesh out the interactions in a more convincing way. That said, I’ll probably pick up the sequel, because this is a fast, entertaining read with an interesting premise, and the last few pages were almost cinematically beautiful and left me wanting to know what was going to happen next.

~Ruth Arnell

Angelfall by Susan EeAngelfall was an unexpected reading experience. Having no foreknowledge whatsoever as to what it was about or where it was heading, I was completely caught up in the story and its surprises, staying up well past a reasonable hour in order to get to its conclusion.

Best described as a melding of the supernatural romance of Twilight with the dystopian wastelands of The Hunger Games, the story revolves around Penryn, a seventeen year old girl who struggles for survival in the wake of an angel invasion. These angels aren’t the wise, benevolent angels of New Age pop culture, but the Old Testament-style warriors who leave mass destruction and chaos in their wake. Earth’s population has no idea why they’ve invaded the planet or what they’re hoping to achieve; they only know that they’ve already lost the war against them. Now humanity lives in scattered communities, hoping to defend what little territory they have left and scrounge for supplies in the wastelands that remain.

Penryn is trying to move her mother and wheelchair-bound sister Paige to a safer location when a melee of angels crashes to earth right in front of her. It’s a five-against-one confrontation that ends with Penryn helping out the angel set upon by the others, hoping to provide enough of a distraction for her mother and sister to escape. Yet in quick succession Paige is kidnapped and Penryn takes the injured angel hostage, desperate to learn where the others have taken her sister. Dependent on each other for safety, girl and angel come to a tentative truce: together they’ll journey to the aerie in San Francisco so that Penryn can search for her sister and Raffe (short for Raphael) can get his destroyed wings reattached. Neither one is particularly optimistic about the possibility for success.

To continue with the Twilight/Hunger Games comparison, Penryn has a strong narrative voice, a no-nonsense, self-deprecating tone that’s more reminiscent of Katniss Everdeen than Bella Swan (mercifully). This is a young woman whose first impulse leans toward personal safety and the wellbeing of her family; any growing feelings she has for Raffe are entirely incidental to her survivalist instincts.

These days romances between humans and supernatural creatures (be they vampires, werewolves, fairies or angels) are a dime a dozen, and though the budding connection between Penryn and Raffe feels more obligatory than organic, it doesn’t take up much of the page count or intrude too much into Penryn’s internal narrative. Her main objective remains her sister; this is a heroine that’s not trying to save the world, just her family.

There are plenty of intriguing supporting characters that Penryn and Raffe encounter along the way, including an anarchic human resistance and plenty of angels with agendas of their own. A particular treat is Penryn’s mother, a woman who seems to be a paranoid schizophrenic and who weaves in and out of the story almost at random. She actually reminded me of Will Parry’s mother in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a mother who suffers from an undiagnosed mental affliction, but whose erratic behaviour begins to make an unsettling and unexpected amount of sense in this terrifying new world.

In the Angelfall’s final chapters there is so much gore and blood that even I got a little queasy, so it’s important not to understate the book’s darkness. This is a dangerous and violent post-apocalyptic world where death is cheap and people are forced to do desperate things to survive – and that’s not even getting into what the angels are up to…

There is plenty of material left over for the intended sequels, and because of Angelfall’s unique style (first-person narrative told in present tense) it is both fast-paced and riveting. Told strictly from Penryn’s point-of-view, we’re privy to the same amount of information she is as she gradually begins to piece together Raffe’s backstory and the reasons behind the angel invasion, whilst simultaneously getting hints as to her mother’s condition, their family history and how it connects to her sister’s paralysis. Even by the end there are still plenty of questions left unanswered, and Susan Ee leaves herself a lot of room in which to further explore her characters and storylines.

Honestly though, this is one book that I really didn’t know what to make of. In parts horrifying and funny, suspenseful and scary, weird and heart-warming, it’s a difficult book to pin down. All I know for sure is that I’ll be checking out the sequel.

~Rebecca Fisher

Angelfall by Susan EeAll hell broke loose on Earth six weeks before our story starts. It’s unclear to me who’s the ultimate bossman of the angels here (they have some unseen supreme being giving them orders; I am presuming here that it’s not really supposed to be God, though the whole thing raises interesting Biblical questions) but someone has given the angels orders to blow up cities and take over earth. Now the angels are in charge, living it up like gangster dudes and using people for nefarious purposes. Humans are in hiding or serving the angel society.

Penryn, a 17 year old girl, is trying to take care of her disabled sister Paige and her mentally ill mother — an extremely tall order. They oversee a fight between angels, in which one angel gets his wings cut off, and Paige gets kidnapped by another angel. Paige saves and takes hostage Raffe, the angel who has had his wings, cut off, figuring he’s her best bet for finding and rescuing her little sister. They lug the wings along, hoping that at some point they can be reattached. Apparently, and conveniently, the normal rules for reattaching appendages within an hour or so do not apply to angel wings.

So Raffe and Penryn begin the trek to the angels’ aerie to try to save Paige and Raffe’s wings. Various adventures ensue, some intriguing (I really liked the hidden human rebellion subplot) and some really horrific. There are factions among the angels. Penryn and Raffe need help, but it’s hard to know who to trust. Especially when they’re still trying to figure out if they can trust each other.

So, I had some issues with this novel:

I wanted more world-building: how on earth did the world fall apart so very quickly? What’s the deal with the angel society? Why did they attack anyway, after so many millennia of watching over earth?

I wanted angels that weren’t quite so… human? I thought their culture and interests should be more alien and different. This angel culture suffered a little in comparison to the more creative world in Laini Taylor‘s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE trilogy.

I would have liked writing that had more depth and was more layered. What you see here is pretty much what you get.

And my final beef: the budding relationship between Raffe, who seems to be immortal and (at least) thousands of years old, not to mention a captain of many angels, and Penryn, a 17 y/o human girl. Leaving apart the two different races thing, that’s a hell of an age and power differential. I don’t want to hear anyone complaining about Twilight‘s piddling 100 year difference ever again.

That said, there were also several things I liked about Angelfall: Penryn’s martial arts and self-defense skills. Loved this, especially since it had a basis in lots and lots of training her paranoid mother insisted on her getting. It didn’t just spring forth out of nothing.

Penryn’s damaged mother was a great character — I want to know more about her. I’m hoping there’s a really fascinating backstory that will come out later, about what really happened when Paige was injured.

The turn toward horror in the last part of the book was unexpected, and a nice twist away from what otherwise might have felt like a standard paranormal romance tale.

Overall Angelfall was a fun read (I would say “and light” except for the horror element), enough to suck me into reading the sequels to find out what happens.

~Tadiana Jones

Penryn & the End of Days — (2012-2015) Publisher: It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back. Anything, including making a deal with Raffe, an injured enemy angel. Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco, where Penryn will risk everything to rescue her sister and Raffe will put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

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  • Ruth Arnell

    RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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  • Tadiana Jones

    TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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