Angel City by Jon Steele

urlBook Two in the Angelus Trilogy, Angel City, provided as a net galley copy by the publishers in exchange for an honest review (thank you), is an action-packed, hold on to the edge of your seat read, that’s a cross between a high-octane adventure/crime novel and something akin (but much better) than Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with doses of philosophy, science and astronomy thrown in for good measure.

Commencing with an explosion that rocks Paris and the cosmic forces protecting and harming humans, we’re once again introduced to Jay Harper, ageless, timeless (in a sense) and very much damaged protector of humanity.

Over two years have passed since the events in Lausanne Cathedral and the dark forces made to retreat at the end of book one are back in full force and twice as virulent. Recruited once more to fight for “good”, the weary Harper is coerced into accompanying a murderous priest and his strange, younger but quite brilliant side-kick on a hunt through the catacombs of Paris, a hunt to uncover a sinister object that may or may not spell the end of life as we know it. Certainly, it’s discovery signals the beginning of the Prophecy is at hand – a prophecy the dark forces will do anything to prevent being fulfilled.

In the meantime, Katherine Taylor, the hooker without a heart, has not only found she has one, but that it’s firmly beating for her adorable son, Max. Whisked to the United States and forced to forget the people and events that almost claimed her life in Switzerland over two years earlier, Katherine is in the protection of the Swiss guard, living a more than sheltered life and medicated regularly.

Segueing between cracking exterior scenes involving Harper to more sedate and intimate domestic ones with Katherine and her son, to the killer priest and his accomplice, Goose, the book sets a relentless pace except when imparting important pieces of information and some essential historical context. Convenient sometimes, but always interesting, these moments of exposition also provide unexpected depths and richness to the novel and the series.

Well plotted, beautifully written, the characters we were introduced to in the first book are developed further, new ones enter and minor players are given significant roles. The heart-warming scenes between Katherine and her son, as well as the growing romance between her and one of the Swiss guards, display a heart and soul that was very much located in the central character of the first book, Marc Rochat. In these parts, Katherine comes into her own, and the relationships she develops with her son and his minders are moving and convincing.

The parts featuring Harper are lashed with grotesque violence, humour and eternal questions about human’s place in the universe. Always distant from those he interacts with, Harper maintains this sense of otherworldiness with the reader as well, which is alternately frustrating and yet understandable.

This is a terrific sequel to a wonderful first novel, I look forward very much to reading the concluding book, The Way of Sorrows.

 

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Book Review: Wrath of Angels by John Connolly

Having never read a John Connolly before, nor one of the Charlie Parker books, I was a bit concerned about being introduced to his work by starting on the eleventh book of a series. However, like most good authors who write extended series featuring the same character, Wrath of Angels is a novel that you can read as a stand-alone or as part of a sequence. Though, I suspect that those who have followed the trials of Parker (and I gather there have been many) will no doubt reap far more rewards than someone who is ignorant of his background, except through the hints dropped throughout WoA. I think this is why, in the end, though I enjoyed the book, it left me a little hollow – I don’t blame the writer, I blame my decision to pick up book 11!

WoA tells the story of a mysterious plane crash deep in the Maine woods and how, some time after it occurs, two older men stumble upon the wreckage and the contents of the craft. Though there are no bodies, there’s evidence of survivors, but this doesn’t interest the men. Instead, against their better moral judgment, they take some of the cargo, and it’s this decision that sets in motion a series of events and murders in the present and brings Charlie Parker into the story. Unfortunately, his involvement and the stolen cargo also alert other, less salubrious and very, very scary characters, all of whom are intent on retrieving what they believe is rightfully theirs, no matter who they have to kill, regardless of what bargains they have to strike. Some, it seems, are even prepared to sell their souls…at least, they would if they had one…

Nonetheless, WoA introduced me to new writer with a supernatural bent who has a lovely writing style. I often felt as if I was enjoying a great old yarn, as even minor characters were given really intricate and meaningful back-stories that enriched their purpose in terms of plot and added layers to the story as well – even if they only featured briefly. Connolly loves a good metaphor and simile and uses them with abandon, mostly very well, though there were times when similes were just a tad overused.

Drawing on demonology and angels and the notion of an eternal battle between those who have been graced or cursed and all states in-between, Connolly offers a very interesting spin on religion, the supernatural, contemporary matters and detective work. I really liked that the nature of his lead character remains a mystery – not just to Parker, but to those who have a vested interest in discovering which side he’s on as well.

Connolly evokes atmosphere so very well – whether it’s a diner in a small town or the tangled, night-dark woods and black, oily pools of the Maine forests. I don’t think I’ve felt quite so anxious or uncomfortable reading a book for a long time. The sense of something otherworldly, hungry, and a dark power lurking, watching, is so very realistically brought to life, hovering at the edges of the tale and occasionally bursting into the action. I found myself looking over my shoulder while I was reading a little too often for my comfort!

Overall, I thought this was a good book. I’m not certain I will read the others and this is possibly unfair upon Connolly, but horror books are not what I enjoy, the frisson created here was a little too stark for me and painful – but that shouldn’t stop anyone who enjoys a fine fright, or supernatural thrillers and crime, from reading this guy. He can write!

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Book Review: The Crippled Angel

The final page-turning installment of The Crucible series, The Crippled Angel, sees Thomas Neville, former Dominican, warrior and now King Henry’s (Hal’s) confidant and conscience, forced to make the decision that will change the world. Understanding what he is and what’s expected of him, the role he has no choice but to play, Neville nonetheless struggles with his morals and what he believes he must do, procrastinating endlessly! Despite the apparent wickedness of the angels and deception of those called demons, Neville feels he must search for alternatives or delay the inevitable for as long as possible, bringing everyone and thing to the brink of disaster.

Against a backdrop of war, politics, pestilence, treachery and unbelievable cruelty, moments of kindness, generosity and love shine. It’s these, particularly in the form of Hal’s misused Queen, Mary, that Neville clings to as the angels and events conspire to force his hand. A strong friendship develops between Neville and Mary which is the woman’s only respite as Douglass does not spare the gentle queen any misery and we bear witness to utterly appalling injuries – emotional and physical – inflicted upon this poor soul.

Philip and Catherine also feature as does Joan of Arc and, of course, Neville’s wife and child. Relationships grow, transform, suffer and are fulfilled or otherwise. Again, Douglass uses real figures and events to create verisimilitude amd add richness and depth to this complex tale. Dates and places differ as do consequences, but the excitement never abates.

Using a great deal of medieval biblical and religious imagery, Douglass paints a bleak, adventurous and marvellous world where angels and demons tread and manipulate boldly for their own purposes amd where good and evil are no longer black and white but more than fifty shades of grey. The Church as an institution is not let off lightly, and Christianity as preached by Jesus is upheld as a system of faith that’s been as brutalized and misinterpreted as Mary by those with their own shocking agendas. I admire Douglass enormously for the themes she tackles in this series and the ideologies and beliefs she places under a daring microscope. For while this rollicking take of good, evil, everything inbetween and those who practice it is set in the past, it still resonates strongly today.

A fabulous conclusion to a terrific series.

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