Book Review – Angelfall by Susan Ee

December 10, 2012 12:28 pm

I confess that ‘Angelfall’ was one of my ‘impulse buys’ – I found this ebook cheap on Amazon, and thought the description interesting. I didn’t expect much – but Susan Ee’s storytelling blew me away.

In a word: wow. There are a lot of books about angels around these days, but I’ve honestly never read anything quite like this. Ee draws on the biblical depiction of angels as vengeful and merciless agents of God who hand out judgement on humankind, and the result is a brutal post-apocalyptic world in which avenging angels have laid waste to civilisation. Hunted by the avenging messengers of God, humanity has fractured, the survivors broken wrecks for the most part – some even turning to cannibalism.

Penryn spends her life looking after her disabled sister and her paranoid-schizophrenic mother, but when her sister is taken by angels, she is forced to ally herself with one of the beings she despises. Having been stripped of his wings by his own kind, Raffe may be Penryn’s only hope to save her sister, and the two make a reluctant alliance. But as the stakes heighten, it seems impossible for either to stay loyal to their own kind. Raffe wants his wings back, and Penryn intends to go right into the aerie, formerly San Francisco, to find her sister, no matter the cost.

We have little or no back story in the beginning; Susan Ee leaves it to the reader to piece together what happened to the world and focuses instead on the immediate action. The result is that you feel like you’re there with Penryn, whether it be hiding out in abandoned houses or trekking through dark forests full of unseen enemies. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking, and the narrative kept me in a constant state of tension. Ee is a fantastic storyteller, and Penryn’s voice is both youthful and cynical, perfect for the story. Penryn is an independent, tough heroine reminiscent of Katniss from ‘The Hunger Games’. But Ee’s horrific future world is very different from Collins’s dystopia. In Katniss’s world, you know you’ll be punished if you break the rules. In Penryn’s world, there are no rules. The angels are mean, remorseless and want us dead. And I love it.

This book has to be one of the most gripping post-apocalyptic novels I’ve ever read – and in a genre full of great talent, that’s saying something. Every twist was unexpected,the action remains at a constant high, and the depiction of the world in ruins is eerie and haunting. Maybe some readers will be annoyed at the lack of background information – other than what we gather from Penryn’s observations – but I think the story works better that way. Angelfall has a gripping narrative full of nail-biting suspense and some genuinely shocking moments, yet the characterisation – particularly of the leading characters – is also well-developed, especially Penryn’s conflicting feelings towards Raffe. The cliffhanger ending left me, as I’m sure it did so many others, eagerly anticipating the sequel. Doubtless, it’ll be hard to match this debut on quality, but there are a lot of things left unexplained, including the angel politics that led to the invasion of Earth, and the history of Penryn’s family.

A fantastic novel from an incredibly talented author: this is one end-of-the-world story you don’t want to miss.

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