“There is something about you,” she admitted, “that makes me want to behave badly.”
In the land of Samaria, humans and angels intermarry and seem to work alongside one another in relative peace. Except that Jovah, a god as jealous and capricious as the Abrahamic deities he’s based upon, demands annual tribute and intercession by the angels to keep him from destroying the world. These choirs are led by the Archangel, who is appointed every twenty years, and his consort, the Angelica. Though Jovah has given dominion of Samaria to the angels, in theory humans benefit from their protection and can take their grievances to the Archangel. It is his duty to mediate between Jovah and humanity through angelic music.
Power corrupts, however, and angels are much more powerful than humans. They’re taller, stronger, and of course, they can fly. As this insidious corruption spreads throughout Samaria, the Oracle appoints the angel Gabriel as the next Archangel, and tasks him with finding the human woman Jovah has chosen to be his Angelica. That woman is Rachel, whose family was murdered by angels, and who went on to grow up in a loving nomadic tribe before being sold into slavery five years prior. As you’d suspect, their relationship is off to a rocky start, made the more complicated by the impending Gloria in which Rachel will have to sing and upon which the fate of the world hangs. Taken from bondage to live with Gabriel, Rachel must navigate her freedom, her newfound responsibilities as Angelica, and her relationship with Gabriel, all the while trying to figure out who is behind the evil spreading across Samaria.
I really enjoyed this book. For one thing, Rachel is everything I want in a female character. She’s willful, difficult, kind, and conflicted. She doesn’t know her own mind all the time, and she’s relatable for all of that. At least to me. (I saw more than a little of myself in her, and how she absolutely can’t resist picking fights and stubbornly sticks to her guns even when she doubts her decisions.)
“Why is it,” he said, “you are always drawn to the powerless? You are positively kind to the servants and the downtrodden and to mistreated wives, although in general you are a fractious and contrary woman.”
I also liked that somehow by the end Shinn made me feel like I’d read a steamy book when there’d only been two instances of even remotely romantic touching between the two main characters – and those were so tame! I didn’t feel like anything was missing though, and their relationship seemed fully formed.
Best of all, though, the characters aren’t just lazily thrown together. They have to come to the idea, and Rachel in particular is attracted to several different men in the book, even after her marriage. She also lives away from Gabriel for a while, and I think all of this is a really thoughtful way of having a character who had been a slave work out her choices and decide what she wants and what she’ll let herself have.
“Stubborn unto death; Simon had told her that once. Stubborn just for the sake of stubbornness, and stubborn out of fear. Stubborn when there was no good reason for it except that she had never, not even in five years as a slave, learned to back down.”
Now, in closing, I am not a religious person, and I was pleasantly surprised that religion took a backseat in this book despite it being so heavily religious in imagery, names, and well, it has angels and angels named Gabriel and Raphael, no less. So if you’re wondering if that would make the book less enjoyable for you, I hope that will convince you to give it a try. It’s well-written, the plot is good, and Gabriel and Rachel are wonderful characters who really resonated with me.
Comment below and tell me your thoughts on Archangel or my review. To those of you who’ve also read it, what did you think about the romance (or maybe lack thereof?) in the book? Do you think the depiction of the slow building feelings between Gabriel and Rachel was realistic, especially given Rachel’s background? I found this book made a mythology I felt too familiar with seem new and refreshing instead of overpowering and dull, did you?
This is my first fantasy with angels, and I’m surprised at myself ’cause I want more. Send me some angel fantasy recs!