I didn’t know what to expect when I began reading Book One of the Angelus Trilogy, The Watchers, by Jon Steele. Post Twilight, readers were inundated with all things vampire followed by angel-ogy novels and I found the genre quickly grew very tired and predictable. When the publishers of The Watchers invited me to review book three of this series (Way of Sorrows) in exchange for an honest review, I hesitated. I couldn’t very well read book three without first reading the others in the series and wondered if these types of books were what I wanted to invest my time in. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the adage goes, so when I pointed out the problem, the publishers kindly gave me the others and I had an obligation to fulfil.
Can I just say, I am so glad I did. Far from following the tropes of this sub-genre of speculative fiction, Steele introduces an original premise, characters, and plot, wonderful locations and all packaged up in delicious and evocative writing.
The novel opens on the blood-soaked battlefields of one of the World Wars and a haunting scene between a British soldier and another takes place, raising more questions than providing answers.
The reader is then catapulted into contemporary times and placed firmly in the historical city of Lausanne in Switzerland. Here we’re introduced to Marc Rochat, the sweet-natured bell-ringer or keeper of the hours at the Gothic cathedral in the heart of town. Endearingly strange, it’s clear Marc is more than he or any one else (except a privileged few) realise. Enter Jay Harper, a man with huge chunks of his memory missing, a penchant for The History Channel and who is an insomniac. Harper apparently works as an investigator for the International Olympic Committee, only he’s not sure what it is he should be doing. Forthright, strong and brave, Jay is someone who naturally errs on the side of social justice and champions both the underdog and damsels in distress. Only, when he meets Katherine, a simply stunning American high-class hooker with chips on both shoulders, he finds a damsel but no distress that is, until she encounters a ruthless organisation who have plans not only for her, but the entire world.
The novel builds languorously, taking its time to establish characters and then motivation. Some might find this frustrating, but because it’s so well executed every word and scene has a place and you find your comprehension growing with each chapter as these only loosely connected main characters are slowly brought together and understanding dawns for them and the reader.
The climax of the novel is powerful, the dénouement rich and satisfying. Far from simply being an “angel” book, this dense and dare I say, quite literary book, is laden with philosophical observations, pop culture references, laugh-out-loud humour as well as some of the most violent scenes I’ve read in a long while. As well as drawing from other genres, such as detective noir/crime and history, this is a marvellous addition to the “angel” canon and flies high above most.
A very impressive first book that had me opening the sequel straight away. Highly recommended.