Ferren and the Angel by Richard Harland
Never before have I read a book with such epic proportions, such potential, and such originality — and yet was written so carelessly and simplistically. What promises to be a future-fantasy-adventure along the lines of Philip Pullman‘s amazing His Dark Materials trilogy, instead reads like sci-fi pulp fiction.
Ferren and the Angel is set in the year 3000AD, after a series of scientific discoveries and heavenly experiments that resulted in a full out war between Heaven and Earth. The beginning of the book includes a time-line that includes entries such as “The Rising of the Undead,” the “Depopulation of New York,” “The Great Collapse,” and of course “The Invasion of Heaven,” as well as a map of the world in the future, which show that Asia is now known as “The Burning Continents,” North America is covered in ice, and there is an Atlantic Bridge reaching from Africa to South America.
What’s left of life is divided into three groups: Celestial Beings (angels) that are divided into many ranks of hierarchy, Humens who are ruled by the Doctors and wage war on the angels, and Residuals — the remains of ordinary humanity who live meager, post-apocalyptic lives in the wastelands. In this group is Ferren, a young man who watches the lights and flashes of battle from underneath the roof of the Dwelling Place each night. It is here that he witnesses the fall of an angel from the skies, and investigates the next morning.
Miriael is a junior angel who is devastated to find herself on the defiled Earth, and even more horrified once Ferren tells her that he has given her food and water whilst she was unconscious. Now in a physical body, she longs to return to Heaven, but at the same time is fascinated by the reason and kindness that Ferren displays, after being taught all her life that they were savages.
But once Ferren’s tribe (who has an alliance with the Humen and every year allows them to take recruitments for their armies) finds that he’s had dealings with an angel, the two of them are captured and plans are made for them to be handed over the to the Humens. Ferren makes his escape, and believing that Miriael has already been taken to the Humen Camp, he begins the journey to rescue her — finding out the Humen’s terrible secret on the way. Meanwhile, Miriael is uncovering secrets of her own, including the history of the world since 2005AD that resulted in such devastation.
As you can see, the premise is utterly ingenious, and Richard Harland has meticulously mapped out the history of the world since the fateful experiment of two scientists that brought back the dead from Heaven to a full-out war between Heaven and Earth that occurred once humans tried to exploit it. Now the Earth is ruled by the sinister doctors, who despise Heaven and the mysteries in it that go against their reasoning and logic.
But the book suffers from a lack of pacing and poor characterisation. Chapters are only three pages long, and switch continually back and forth from Ferren and Miriael’s point of view, making it difficult to really connect with what’s going on. Although Miriael comes across nicely as a somewhat haughty angel that is half-disgusted, half-fascinated with the physicality of Earth, Ferren remains bland and uninteresting, with no real distinguishing features or talents (except his supposed intelligence, which we are told he has rather than shown). All of the members of Ferren’s tribe are named, but none have any individuality, except the wretched Zondra who is thoroughly unlikeable.
As well as this, there are some confusing aspects to the story; for instance, Ferren’s tribe worships a range of objects from the time when humanity ruled the Earth, including a can of Fly Spray, which they herald as “the Guardian Fly Spray.” But we are also told that these people cannot read — so how do they know it’s fly spray? And even presuming that they did know what it was — why are they worshipping a can of Fly Spray?
One of the most obvious questions presents itself right from the start: where is God during all of this? Harland does not even mention the presence or even the existence of an actual deity at work, but the most forgiving reader would probably raise questions as to why God permits Heaven to be overrun, and such tampering with human souls to occur in the first place.
Despite all of this, I would still recommend Ferren and the Angel. Its originality cannot be doubted, and it is an intriguing, swift-moving story that any fans of His Dark Materials might like, though Harland takes the opposite view of Pullman in his opinions of Heaven, technology and atheism. Yet despite my enjoyment of it, I couldn’t help but feel that it could have been so much more.
Heaven And Earth Trilogy (Ferren) — (2004) Young adult. Publisher: In the year 2010 after the Invasion of Heaven, human psychonauts trample the sacred fields of Heaven, & the angels retreat to higher altitudes to avoid the contamination of the physical. In the year 2520 the Millennial Wars have reduced the Earth to a devastated battleground. In the year 3000 the evil Humen are determined to destroy the power of Heaven, while the Residuals, a primitive race of people, live fearfully in the ruins of civilization. In the midst of this hatred & fear is born a unique friendship that could change the course of history.
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