Set about 150 years after Archangel, Jovah’s Angel returns to the world of the Samaria books to find a new set of problems besieging the land. Terribly destructive storms are wracking the land, and the angels, who for hundreds of years have been able to intercede with the god Jovah for protection, can no longer work their magic. When one particularly bad storm hurls the Archangel Delilah to the ground, breaking her wing and leaving her no longer capable of flight, the oracles are approached to name a new Archangel. The pronouncement they receive from Jovah is a shock to everyone: the reclusive scholar Alleluia should be the new Archangel.
I loved Archangel and was concerned about whether any sequel could possibly live up to the first book. Sharon Shinn very wisely sets the action significantly later, so while the events of the first book are referenced historically to provide continuity, they are not impacted by the new story. Of course, that also provides some interesting situations for the story to confront. One of the problems that Alleluia faces is that she is told to choose the son of Jeremiah for her angelico. That is logically interpreted in a specific manner, but readers will be able to interpret it in another manner entirely, and know that the son of Jeremiah is actually Caleb, who Alleluia falls in love with over the course of the story. This seemed like a poor attempt at foreshadowing at first, since it was so obvious to me that she is supposed to marry Caleb. The longer I read into the story, however, it seemed to me that the frustration I was feeling at them not being able to figure this out was shared by Alleluia, as she is falling in love with one person, while believing that she has to marry someone else. That shared irritation was an interesting addition to the reading experience.
Caleb, the man Alleluia is falling in love with, is an engineer. Samaria has started to undergo both enlightenment and an industrial revolution, and Caleb is at least agnostic, if not atheist. Watching a society struggle with the rapid changes caused by industrialization is frustrating to Alleluia, and a source of conflict between the angel and the engineer. He is entranced by the possibility of technology, while Alleluia only sees the economic disruption and ugliness of the factory towns. Alleluia needs Caleb, though, because the few machines the angels still have from the settling of Samaria are starting to break down, and Caleb is the only one capable of fixing them. And then the interfaces at the oracles’ sanctuaries start receiving a mysterious message, and only by working together can Alleluia and Caleb figure out what the god is trying to tell them.
Archangel was a blend of fantasy and science fiction that leaned towards fantasy. Jovah’s Angel leans towards science fiction or possibly primitive steampunk, as the Samarians both discover technology for themselves and start to learn the truth of their god. While it doesn’t quite live up to the perfection of Archangel, being a little too talky in parts rather than showing the dilemmas through plot, and with the ending being a little too obvious, Jovah’s Angel is still a magnificent book for anyone who likes intelligent fantasy that is still centered around character relationships.