The angel Azrael has been sent to earth in a human body, with a very important mission. He must find Celeste Jackson, a woman who is one of the Remnant, the last remaining descendants of angel/human couplings in ages past. The Remnant must be gathered so they can lead the human race when all hell breaks loose in 2012.
When we first meet Celeste, she’s an unlikely leader. Labeled “crazy” all her life because she sees demons, she has fallen into an abusive relationship and heavy drinking. One night she’s sure it’s over — that her boyfriend is finally going to kill her — but instead he is killed by the demon that has been inhabiting him. Celeste escapes the demon but finds herself lost and hopeless, until she meets a drop-dead gorgeous man who claims to be an angel.
The interactions between Azrael and Celeste are, for the most part, terrific. Celeste doesn’t believe the angel story at first, Azrael is baffled by much of what he finds in the human world, and the trust that develops between the two characters is sweet and uplifting. The relationship between Celeste and her beloved Aunt Niecey is also endearing, as is the camaraderie that develops between Azrael and Niecey. L.A. Banks gives each character a distinctive voice and creates several adorable scenes — most notably a grocery shopping trip in which Azrael discovers the sensual joys of earthly food, and the scene where the two go to Niecey’s house and banter affectionately — that will give you the warm fuzzies.
The relationship between Azrael and Celeste progresses at improbable speed, though, as does Celeste’s transformation from mess to dispenser of wisdom. It might have been easier to swallow if Surrender the Dark took place over a period of weeks rather than a day or two.
The larger problem in Surrender the Dark is the lecturing. Several times, the plot comes to a halt so that one character (usually Azrael) can expound about something to another (usually Celeste). I also had this issue when reading Banks’s Minion several years ago. The subject matter is a little different this time; Minion had a lot of religious preaching, while Surrender the Dark has some of that but is largely focused on the benefits of an organic vegan diet. I can’t complain too much, since it does lead to the grocery store scene — but the copious filibustering wears thin (even during that scene, which I otherwise liked).
The latter half of the novel features more action, as the forces of darkness scheme to gain control of Celeste. I’m not sure how much the larger plot of the series is advanced, as Banks could go several different directions from here. I’m curious whether she will continue to follow Celeste and show how she fulfills her destiny, or if she will backtrack and tell the stories of the other Remnant characters first. This series opener is a promising start… especially if Banks dials back the lecturing.