Thursday, 5 January 2012

Book Review: Archon by Sabrina Benulis

Pros: interesting setting and angel mythology, attention to detail

Cons: melodramatic, some world building information is obscured/left out

Luz is a dark and stormy island city owned by the Vatican.  It is a refuge for blood heads, one of whom is prophesied to be a reincarnated angel whose death started the war in heaven, and whose rebirth will cause the end of everything by opening the Book of Raziel.  Angela Mathers is a blood head, plagued by visions of angels and in Luz to study at the West Wood Academy.  Her arrival casts the current reigning socialite's position as the Ruin in doubt and leads to a showdown between the two women.  Angela however, has no desire to be the Ruin.  All she wants is to see her angels in the flesh.  A goal she will do anything to fulfill.

This is a high Gothic novel.  The settings are dark and rainy, filled with detailed images of gargoyles and old churches.  I've put melodramatic in the con category as I'm not a fan of soap opera style drama, and there's a lot of that here.  Gothic fiction requires drama though, so there's no getting away from who's sleeping with whom and who killed whom.  Archon has a fair number of dramatic pauses and dire pronouncements.  Once you add in the stark red on black and white colour scheme, the book put me in mind of the film Bram Stoker's Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola.  Indeed, this book would make a spectacular film, with the emphasis on spectacle.

Despite using the Vatican as the religious entity on the island, this book does not use canonical Catholic dogma for its view of heaven and hell.  Forget what you think you know and allow the book to show you a new vision of angels and demons.  It's a terrifying one, but extremely interesting.  I especially liked Benulis's take on the Jinn and her fae/angel connection (though I'd have liked more information about that).  And her twist regarding Lucifer is fantastic.

Having said that, there are a few gaps in the world building.  For example, it's not clear what benefits the priests got from allowing Stephenie's coven to exist, beyond keeping an eye on them.  And at one point Israfel's Thrones do something to Brendan but it's not clear what, beyond that it's painful.  On the other hand, these don't impact the main plot and may have been left obscure on purpose.

Angela is an interesting protagonist.  On the one hand she's tried to commit suicide numerous times as a means of seeing her angels, and is thereby sympathetic.  On the other hand, she has little concern for the people around her and is entirely wrapped up in her own concerns.

If you like Gothic fiction, want to see a new take on angels, or enjoy mythology with a twist, this is the book for you.

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