Angelfall by Susan Ee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Feral Dream, 2011
Length: 282 pgs
Series: Penryn & The End of Days, Book #1
Format: Paperback, purchased from Amazon
Goodreads Synopsis: It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.
Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.
Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.
Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.
This book came recommended Goodreads via a friend who shares my love of paranormal fiction and romance. She claimed she read it in one sitting and that it was a must-read, so naturally I immediately went to Amazon and found it for less than $5 in paperback. So instead of ordering my textbooks, I happily dropped this into my cart and had it in my hands two days later.
Now, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. I am a sucker for paranormal books that deal with angels. Sadly, many books in this genre are disappointing, riddled with weak plots, poor writing, or completely ridiculous love triangles. I was delighted to discover that Angelfall avoids all three of these problems, and adds a twist to the genre by setting it in a post-apocalyptic society. This end-of-the-world setting is fantastic because it makes sense, as there are multiple times in the Bible when God and his angels intervene and cause destruction as punishment (the great flood, the destruction of Sodom, etc). This book hammers down the often-forgotten concept in popular culture that angels are warriors, not cherubic spiritual beings who are meant to lazily float in heaven all day long.
I applaud Susan Ee for doing her biblical and mythological research about Angels while adding her own imaginative twists. She expertly weaves in tales of Nephilim, the Daughters of Man, the hierarchy of angels, and other biblical tropes to form the foundation her world building, while adding her own unique (and sometimes disturbing) twists. She blends dystopian, paranormal, and sci-fi together and chooses her setting as the Northern California Bay Area, and as a California native I was jumping up and down with delight. So rarely are books set in California set anywhere but the beaches in SoCal, and it adds a level of realism to know where in the world the book is set, as so often post-apocalyptic books never really disclose where their characters are in pre-apocalyptic geography. Knowing exactly where they are lends a lot more realism to the plot, especially if you’ve ever visited San Francisco or the Silicon Valley.
Ee also does a great job at developing strong characters as well. I was delighted to discover that Penryn shows a lot of agency for a female protagonist, without being emotionally unreachable. She’s relateable even as she’s shoving steak knives in her pocket and holding people hostage for information. The brief moments throughout the book where she reflects upon her childhood with her schizophrenic mother provides an interesting look at mental illness and the impact it has on family relationships. Penryn may not be the one hundred percent full feminist protagonist that many readers are still waiting for (for instance, there are times when I wished she would have spoken up more) but she’s a strong step in the right direction, as she’s sassy, resourceful, and never deviates from her main goal from the beginning of the text. Also, most of her dialogue is realistically hilarious:
“I never kid about my warrior demigod status.”
“Oh. My. God.” I lower my voice, having forgotten to whisper. “You are nothing but a bird with an attitude. Okay, so you have a few muscles, I’ll grant you that. But you know, a bird is nothing but a barely evolved lizard. That’s what you are.”
For some reason that line had me in peals of laughter, possibly because this book kept me up until all hours of the night reading it.
Yes this book has romantic undertones but it’s not forced upon the reader, and is secondary to the major plot elements (which is a realief because both characters have bigger issues to deal with). Raffe, the angel she teams up with, is witty but also realistic in his often cool detachment and business-like attitutde…which is a nice reminder that these paranormal creatures are not humans and should not conveniently fall head over heels for some ordinary female protagonist. There is an undercurrent of chemistry throughout the book that will probably develop throughout the next in the series, but there was so much other great, interesting, intriguing, and disturbing stuff going on that the romance isn’t the main thing that will make me return to the series.
Also, a point of clarification for my rating: one of the reasons I didn’t give Angelfall a 5/5 star review is that some of the imagery is really quite disturbing, and I am not usually one who is a fan of the horror genres. Yes, it did add greatly to the dark, post-apocalyptic atmosphere of the book but I was taken by surprise because I wasn’t expecting such imagery from the YA genre. To me, it was even more graphic that Hunger Games (which may not be saying much, but I’m not a big zombie/gore/horror person). And while I’m sure some of my questions will be answered when I pick up the sequel, it does feel a bit mind-boggling in this book when you have angels alongside gruesome science experiments, cannibalistic demons and reanimated, stitched back together corpses…
But it all serves as just more reasons to pick up the next one! However horrifying, I can’t not read the next one, so Ee has done her job at creating a strong readership for her series.
Final Thoughts: I give this book 4/5 stars for it’s original yet historical take on the angel genre, strong and original characters, and dealing with difficult issues such as handicaps and mental illness. Don’t get me wrong, if you love romance this won’t disappoint, but it’s a subtle brewing tension rather than hitting you in the face with the obvious five chapters in. If you don’t do well with disturbing imagery, I might stay away or at least not read it right before you go to bed (a mistake I made that jolted me awake at 6am on a Sunday morning). This book is less than 300 pages but will have you finishing in no time as it’s writing style and short chapters prove it impossible to find a satisfying place to take a break from the story.
Recommended for: Those who want a more realistic and graphic depiction of the post-apocalyptic world, those who appreciate a not-obvious and realistically building romance, those who gravitate toward darker depictions of mythology. For those who read and enjoyed: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Lux Series, Hunger Games.
Brilliant review! I have seen this book floating around Goodreads quite a lot and my recommendations page keeps prodding me and telling me I should try it. I do have a love of paranormal books in general but have found myself steering away from them lately. I think I went though a patch where I read to many in a row so I felt the need to leave them alone for I while, but I have no doubt I will return very soon!
I will keep a look out for this one. 🙂
Glad you liked the review! I definitely know what you mean about reading too many paranormal books- they all start to blur together after a while!
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