“I wonder which will get you killed faster–your loyalty or your stubbornness?”
Penryn is 17, her mother is schizophrenic, her father is gone, and her 7 year old sister, Paige, is paralyzed from the waist down. If her responsibilities weren’t great enough, the world has ended and angels have decided it’s capital-A apocalypse time.
The book begins with Penryn moving her family to a safer part of town; her mother has been off her meds for days, and her sweet-hearted sister is slow-going in her manual wheelchair. Feeding her family and dodging angels and human gangs is all she has time for, so she surprises even herself when she comes to the aid of an angel who’s being attacked by his own kind, his wings severed.
That angel is Raffe, and with Penryn’s help he survives. But one of the attacking angels steals Paige, and Penryn realizes that Raffe is very probably her only chance of ever seeing her sister again. The two of them strike up an uneasy alliance; he needs his wings restored, she wants her family reunited. They set out together, and the rest is not history, but a really fun, original urban fantasy.
- Atmosphere – Susan Ee loves California, or if she doesn’t then her beautiful, nostalgic, loving descriptions of the place really fooled me. I’ve never been to Cali, and I definitely don’t want to go during an apocalypse, but the ruined landscape of Penryn’s home was described with such heart that I felt as devastated as she did, reading through her eyes. The way Ee situated the unfurling destruction, how we were able to tour with Penryn on her journey, made up one of the most enjoyable parts of reading this book.
- Originality – We have the familiar figures of Judeo-Christian angels, their regal names ending in -iel/-ael/-iah, but these are not the gentle-faced guardians you might be used to, the ones lining my grandmother’s curio cabinet. Instead, these are war veteran, Jarhead types, eager for the apocalypse. There’s also a different spin on angel hierarchy, biblical creatures like the nephilim, God, and something totally new – mad angel science. It’s great, and unlike anything I’ve read.
- Characterization, and in particular giving us a sensible female protagonist – I love that Penryn and her family are fleshed out and real. I also love that she acts sensibly, namely putting love/romance on the back-burner for saving her sister and possibly the world. I didn’t realize I was missing this so much until I got it; love is great, romance in fantasy can be done really well, but when you really think about it…if your beloved sister was kidnapped and flown off to some angel lab, would you be spending all of your time mooning over someone? Hopefully not! And in the moments when she is caught up (she’s a 17 year old girl, after all), she’s quick to snap out of it, chastise herself, and get back to business. She’s also a fighter, for real. Ee seems to know a lot about self-defense, and it shows in how she describes Penryn’s very realistic-seeming fighting scenes.
- Female relationships – I loved Penryn’s relationship with her mom, and with her sister. It all felt so real, and I think Penryn’s mother’s mental illness was dealt with sensitively, as was Paige’s being paralyzed.
- The banter – Raffe and Penryn bickering, flirting, and becoming friends/allies is a highlight of the book.
“‘Is this edible?’ Raffe stands at the kitchen entrace, framed by the Mediterranean archway. He could easily be at home in a place like this. He stands with the fluid grace of an aristocrat who’s used to rich surroundings. Although the quarter-bag of cat food he’s holding up does mess with the image a little.”
- The writing, at least part of the time. I’m thinking in particular of the overuse of certain descriptions and phrases that got annoying. I’m looking at you “45 degree angle.” The second half of the book is great, though, and I’ve noticed I say this a lot about the first book in trilogies. Maybe it’s having to set up everything for a three-book spread. Maybe they don’t get the editing attention until they see some success, I’m not sure. But I’ve just started the second in the series and the writing, plot, and characters have all improved.
Overall, I loved this book! I’m not really a paranormal romance/urban fantasy fan (not yet, anyway!), but for more books like this I could be. I think it would appeal to anyone who’s looking for some fresh fantasy themes, strong and truly unique female characters, and a great story about unlikely heroes, family, and brutal choices.