Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review of Archangel

Archangel is a novel in Sharon Shinn's Samaria series, featuring a world in which angels and humans live together in harmony. The Samaria series is not published in chronological order, but on her website Shinn recommends reading the books in the following order (by release date): Archangel, Jovah's Angel, The Allelluia Files, Angelica, and Angel-Seeker. There is also a novella in the To Weave a Web of Magic anthology called "Fallen Angel" that was published after the novels. Although this novel is supposed to be science fiction, it seems more like a fantasy novel. However, I read the blurb on the novel that spoiled other books in the series, and there is a reason it is labeled science fiction instead of fantasy.

Every twenty years a new angel is chosen by the god Jovah to lead the people. The beginning of the Archangel's ascension is marked by the singing of the Gloria, which must be led by the mortal woman chosen by the god to be his wife, the Angelica. If the Gloria is not sung and attended by the appropriate people, Jovah will express his displeasure with thunderbolts. First he will destroy a mountain, then after a few days the river, and eventually the entire world if the Gloria is not performed to his satisfaction.

This is posing a bit of a problem for Gabriel, who is to become the new Archangel in 6 months and cannot find the woman chosen by Jovah to be his new wife. Although he has known he is to become Archangel for years, Gabriel kept putting off seeking the oracle to find out whom he is to marry. He figures he will have plenty of time to find her, and of course, every woman dreams of becoming the angelica so she'll be thrilled when he gives her the news. What Gabriel did not count on was Jovah's choice of Rachel, a farm girl who has not been in the location he was given for many years. After much searching, Gabriel has almost given up hope until he meets the slave girl who tends his fire in the morning and discovers that she is Rachel - who despises the prospect of becoming the new Angelica.



Archangel is somewhat romantic in that there is some emphasis on the relationship between Gabriel and Rachel, but it is far from being a mushy, sicky sweet love story. Occasionally, the two got along, but for the most part Rachel and Gabriel argue. Or, more precisely, Gabriel tries to be kind to Rachel and Rachel is not very nice to him in return. In the very beginning of the story, the oracle told Gabriel that the Angelica would counterbalance him, which meant she would most likely humble him since he was an arrogant man. That's how it works, but honestly, I'm not quite sure how Gabriel put up with Rachel. At first, Gabriel is a bit disturbed by the fact that Jovah chose a slave girl for him, the Archangel of all Samaria, even though he was working to undo slavery in Samaria. Once he came to accept Rachel's humble origins, he did try to be very understanding to her, but she never tried at all. In fact, she did quite the opposite, and basically did everything she could to be a thorn in his side.

Part of the story is told from Gabriel's perspective, but more of it is from Rachel's perspective and it's really more her story than his. Because of this, you know about Rachel's past and how much she has lost, so she's at least somewhat more sympathetic than she would be otherwise. Even so, she became harder to empathize with the further I read. She was one of those characters you just wanted to knock some sense into. Once Gabriel got over his issue with her slavery, he was almost too perfect, and she couldn't just be even a little bit nice to him? He was a just man who was trying to make changes for the better throughout the land, and he did his best to ensure Rachel was as happy as possible. Yet stubborn Rachel always had to be difficult, and even though it makes sense with her character, I still wanted to yell at her to get a grip and quit being so immature and silly. Early on, I loved Rachel, and although I never really disliked her, I did like her less later and can see some readers coming to despise her.

Archangel is about more than just Rachel and Gabriel, although they are the main focus. It's also about Rachel adjusting to her new life and Gabriel's attempts to undo the problems created by his predecessor, the Archangel Raphael. Raphael lacked Gabriel's strong sense of justice and could be bought by the merchants. He was the one who allowed one race of people to be enslaved, and he turned out to be worse and worse.

Religion did play a major role in the storyline, but it seemed like part of the setting to me rather than preachiness even if part of the novel was about having faith in Jovah. Samaria's lands and people tended to have Biblical names and it was closer to the Old Testament than the new one - there was no Savior mentioned, just a god who needed to be pleased or smiting would commence. The people of Samaria tried to uphold the laws, but there was one group of people who believed differently from the rest, the Edori (who adopted Rachel at a young age when her parents died). Most of the people believed Jovah was supreme but the Edori believe that he was created by another being and answers to his creator. They also believed any person could talk to Yovah (their name for Jovah) even if he was not an oracle or angel. At Rachel's wedding, she converses with one of the oracles about the beliefs of the Edori and he wonders who taught them these beliefs and where they came from, which I am hoping is explored in further books. I would like to know more about Jovah, where he came from, and which beliefs about him are actually true. The world beliefs in this novel and how they were executed was one of my favorite aspects of the book.

Archangel was a wonderful book with an intriguing setting based on Biblical ideas. Although I loved the main heroine for about half the book, her attitude did become wearying toward the end, but it was always readable and kept me wanting to find out what happened next. I'd definitely like to read more of the books in this series.

8.5/10

17 comments:

Joe Sherry said...

I've always liked this book. Read it first as a teenager and again a couple years ago.

And yet, I haven't been able to muster up enough interest in reading Jovah's Angel - despite my enjoyment of Archangel.

Kristen said...

Joe - I usually hear Archangel is the best book in the series, so I was a little unsure about reading the next one at first too. But I decided I'm interested enough in finding out more about Samaria that I'll read Jovah's Angel.

Angiegirl said...

Wonderful review, Kristen! I'm biased because this is one of my favorite books, but I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I know a lot of readers hate Rachel, and I know she is impossibly stubborn, but (as much as I love him) I think Gabriel is impossible at times as well. I think I have a soft spot for fiery, stubborn characters and so I will always love Rachel for her fierceness and her loyalty.

Shinn's worldbuilding is awesome and I do recommend the rest of the series. I liked each of them as she explores more of the history of their world.

Kristen said...

Angiegirl - Thank you! And thanks also for recommending this book when I was looking for books to read on the plane. It was an easy book to get into and keep reading.

Toward the beginning I thought Rachel and Gabriel were about equally impossible and stubborn, but toward the end it seemed like Gabriel was the only one trying. I did love Gabriel a lot.

Shinn's worldbuilding is awesome and I am so glad to hear the other books explore more of the history of the world! I'm very curious to learn more about it.

Oh, and I did end up ordering Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief last night. :)

Donna (Fantasy Dreamer) said...

Nice review, I have heard of Sharon Shinn but I haven't read anything by her yet. I'm going to keep this book in mind. Thanks!

Kristen said...

Donna - If you read Archangel, I hope you like it! I've also heard good things about Shinn's Summers at Castle Auburn and would like to read that one.

Nephtis said...

Joe, I felt that way about Jovah's Angel, had zero interest in reading it, finally did about 2 years after Archangel, and found it surprisingly very nice. It's less romancy and explores the scifi elements of the world more. The premise is - God stops answering prayers.

Angiegirl said...

Kristen, you're welcome! I know what you mean, too. By the end Josiah is right. It's time for Rachel to acknowledge what Gabriel's done for her. I really enjoyed Josiah and Naomi admonishing her. It was time.

You got THE THIEF!?!! *confetti* Can't wait to hear what you think.

Kristen said...

Nephtis - I'm much more intrigued by Jovah's Angel now since I'm very intrigued by the scifi parts of the world. The premise sounds interesting, too. And thanks to you, too, since you also recommended this book to me.

Angiegirl - Yes, I've ordered The Thief! I don't know how long it will take to get here but I'm waiting impatiently...

orannia said...

Thank you Kristen! I haven't read this book for quite a few years now (a friend recommended to me and it's been on my 'keeper - must buy' list for what feels like ages! I think I'd like to read it again, because I never read the whole series.

Ohhh, and I know Ana will be reviewing Megan Whalen Turner's books this week so I'm looking forward to learning about The Thief :)

orannia said...

Oh, and I forgot to say - I've just starting reading The Mirador :)

Kristen said...

Orannia - That's why I try to buy my books - otherwise I'll never keep putting off the keepers that I've already read for books not yet read. It's probably odd reasoning since I wouldn't really need to buy books I'd already read until I was planning to read them again, but what can I say, I'm a collector. I'd like to read the rest of this series too.

How do you like The Mirador so far? I liked that one a lot, although I still preferred the previous book.

orannia said...

*grin* That makes sense. I have the opposite problem. Since I borrow so many books from the library, books that I purchase are usually way down the list (since I don't have to return them)...and this is why I borrowed The Mirador from the library, even though I now have my own copy *happy dance*

As for The Mirador itself...I'm only about 40 pages in and I love it! When I realised that we would get Mehitabel's POV I was a little confused, but I'm just loving her dry sense of humour. She's a real chameleon, isn't she...

Kristen said...

Orannia - Glad you are enjoying The Mirador! Personally, I liked Mehitabel well enough but didn't find her nearly as compelling as Felix or Mildmay.

orannia said...

I agree. Mildmay has the most amazing insights!

And I'm still loving Felix :)

Oh, and I figured since I'd already reviewed the first two books I'd give The Mirador a go. There is definitely far more intrigue and machinations going on in this book...I like :)

Kristen said...

Orannia - I'm glad you're going to review The Mirador; I really enjoyed your reviews of the first two books. That one was my favorite after The Virtu.

orannia said...

Thank you :) I'm almost halfway through - having issues finding time to read at present!