narfna’s #CBR4 Review #53: Angelfall by Susan Ee
The world ended six weeks ago when angels from heaven descended to destroy mankind and take Earth for their own. Most people, seventeen year old Penryn included, have no idea why this has happened, but they’re so busy trying to survive that asking why doesn’t seem that important. So when Penryn and her family witness a brutal attack by a gang of angels on an angel in the middle of the road in the middle of the scary, scary night, and the attack ends with the shearing off of the victim Angel’s wings, and the kidnapping of Penryn’s seven year old, wheelchair bound sister, Paige, Penryn reluctantly pairs with the wounded Angel in a desperate attempt to find her missing sister. Penryn and the Angel — who is called Raffe — set off to the Eyrie, the headquarters of the Angels on Earth, in hopes that they can both regain what they have lost (wings, sister, etc, etc.) Trouble ensues.
To say that I am skeptical of indie authors might be a bit of an understatement — I think “wary” might be a better word. On the one hand, I applaud anyone who has the cajones to actually finish a book and then put it out into the world, particularly if said person takes on all the publicity and financial risk of the thing themself, with no one to back them up if things go wrong. And I certainly applaud anyone who does so and manages to get their baby out into the world and read by a respectable amount of people (as has happened with E.L. James, as blechy as I think those books are, and with other indie authors like Amanda Hocking — both of whom eventually partnered with official publishing houses).
On the other hand, we have authors like Christopher Paolini and Colleen Houck, whose homespun success translated into book deals based more upon popularity than actual talent. Granted, Paolini is a certified child prodigy with an outrageous imagination and a terrific work ethic, but after a promising first novel in the derivative but still enjoyable Eragon, his Inheritance Sequence turned into something of an unwieldy mess, like his editors were afraid to mess with his writing for fear of losing whatever untouched magic spun Eragon into a word-of-mouth bestseller. And Ms. Houck — lovely and kind person that she is — has written a book with an intriguing premise in a genre that is just begging for a fresh idea, but is so overwhelmingly unaware of how to write and structure a book, even on the most basic sentence level, that Tiger’s Curse (the first in her book series, and the only book of hers I’ve managed to finish) ends up feeling more like something an intelligent seventh grader would have written as an exercise in wish fulfillment.
So, like, what the hell, Ashley? Isn’t this review supposed to be about Angelfall? Yes, but I felt the context was necessary for you to fully understand where I’m coming from on this one. I’ve read Paolini, Houck, and a good chunk of James out of curiosity, and I eventually plan on checking out Hocking’s work just to see what all the fuss is about, so I had certain expectations going into Angelfall. Even despite the glowing word of mouth reviews I’d heard about the book, all the people whose opinions I respected who had absolutely fallen in love with this book, I was wary — wary that Ee’s prose would be self-indulgent, that her characters would be derivative or that she might Mary Sue herself into the story, that the story would be over the top premise-heavy and that her characters would be neglected. These are not uncommon fears when you’re dealing with un-edited first time authors. But get the fuck out of here, you guys, because this is exactly why people tell you not to judge a book by its cover (although, to be honest, I was more judging it by genre than cover, because that cover is actually kind of awesome).
Dudes. This book was better than a lot of the crap I’ve read that’s been published by actual official publishing companies. Sure, it had a roughness to it that would probably have been missing if Ee had an editor working with her, certain turns of phrase that were awkward or repetitive, some images that were a little over-written* . . . but if I hadn’t known it was an indie book, I never would have guessed. Susan Ee is a hell of a writer. To give you a little more context, apocalypse and post-apocalypse stories scare the ever loving shit out of me so I usually avoid them at all costs. That goes for stories about mental illness as well, and there’s lots of that in Angelfall, what with Penryn’s mother being schizophrenic and off her meds because of the end of the world and all. And if you add on to that my snobbery about paranormal romance as a genre, and angel fiction in particular (I’m a hypocritical asshole sometimes, what can I say? Maybe it would be better if I used “wary” here as well, instead of “snobby,” and would piss off less people — probably), me and this book would have lived our lives, and never the twain shall meet. But we did meet, and I’m very glad it was so. I’m also glad that Ee didn’t have an editor, as I suspect the book would have been cut for content considerably, and most of its more disturbing parts removed or changed entirely (and there were some very disturbing parts in this book, all of them intriguing and scary, but in a good way). I suspect it would have been sanitized to nothingness, or worse, not published at all.
*Speaking of over-written, I’m in the middle of re-reading Delirium at the moment, despite my middling reaction to it the first time around, but I wanted to be prepared for the sequel. Anyway, my point is, Lauren Oliver is a poet at heart and as a result, her book is chock full of lovely poetic imagery. In fact, it’s a little too chock full. She has a tendency to rely on poetic imagery and comparisons, and it’s a technique she goes to just a little too often. In comparison, while some of Ee’s phrases are a little too much, she uses her images and poetry more sparingly, and as a result, when you actually get to one, it’s a gutpunch feeling, rather than “Oh, not this again,” which is how I’ve been feeling with Oliver. Less is more**. Oh my God, shut up, Ashley.
**Ironically, this is the longest, most self-indulgent review in the history of the universe. I told you: hypocrite.
If you have eyes, you will have noted that despite my praise for the book and its author, this is not a five star review, and that’s because the book did have some minor conceptual flaws (flaws which are easily forgiven in the face of the rest of the story, by the way). Ee was perhaps a little too spare with her worldbuilding details. I appreciated the organic nature of the worldbuilding (not a single drop of extraneous exposition to be found), but as a reader enamored of the world she’s created, I wanted more, and I wanted it right away. Penryn was pathological about avoiding direct conflict on this topic in her conversations with Raffe, and while I can buy that she just doesn’t want to get involved, or that she even cares about participating in the eventual resistance movement (although no doubt she will in future books), I don’t buy that she wouldn’t have at least exploited her alone time with Raffe just a little bit, to learn more about the enemy, or hell, even their plan to infiltrate the Eyrie (which she practically goes into blind, by Raffe’s request). I also didn’t think it was believable how soon Penryn was able to admit her attraction to Raffe to herself. The angels destroyed her world and killed billions of people — there should have been much more hatred and fear in her mind, and it should have been much tougher to get over for her than it was. None of this, “Oh, he’s the enemy, but look at how pretty!” Or at least, not as soon as Ee had it happening. It would have been even more fulfilling at the end, then, when she’s finally able to admit that Raffe is her ally, and well . . . I don’t want to spoil the end for you, but just trust me. It would have been better. (P.S. The end of this book is BATSHIT INSANE, just as a warning.)
SO ANYHOODLE. If this review has made you at all curious, just give up already and buy the dang book. Penryn is a badass who keeps knives in her boots, and Ee is a badass for writing her. It’s an incredibly fast read, and it’s only $3 for the ebook. You’ll be supporting a pretty brassy, classy lady, and you’ll be getting a good story in the process. And hey, here’s five free chapters to whet your whistle. The bad part is that when you’re done, you’ll have to wait just like the rest of us for the sequel to be released, and who the heck knows when that’s going to happen. Liking things really sucks sometimes, you know?