The Way of Sorrows by Jon Steele

The conclusion to The Angelus Trilogy, The Way of Sorrows by Jon Steele, sees the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, which has been building over the last two books, reach its climax in none other than the holiest of cities on earth, Jerusalem.

Apart from an epilogue, which takes us back to the crucifixion of Jesus (each epilogue in this series has been poignantly and meaningfully crafted), this novel commences exactly where the second one, Angel City, left off – literally with a bang and with Katherine Taylor attempting to protect her son, Max, from the brutal forces trying to kidnap and kill him. Her erstwhile protector, Jay Harper, a guardian angel come detective, is slowly having his memories restored as the huge gap between ‘beforetimes’ and ‘nowtimes’ is painstakingly narrowed. What Jay gradually relearns about his two and half million years on earth and the role he’s played in the past and must again in the future, may yet save the world.

imgresSo, once again, the quest to save human souls from the dark forces that will devour them is on and heading it is Jay. Accompanying him are his buddy from beforetimes, Krinkle, the DJ, and the mad defrocked priest, Astruc, and his peculiar son, Goose as well as Katherine. Inspector Gobet and his allies play a huge role while minor characters such as the new keeper of the hours in Lausanne Cathedral and Corporal Amy play less but still significant ones.

The prophecy of which we’ve heard parts in the previous instalments is now finally revealed, as are those who have functions within that. Time is of the essence and, from the first page, the countdown begins…

For all that the writing is poetical in parts and Jon Steele is able to craft a story both enormous and galactic in scope, drawing on myths, legends, religion, science, philosophy and maths, as well as crafting intimate portraits of romance, self-exploration and self-doubt, I found this novel less satisfying than the others.

I am still trying to work out why, except that in some ways, there’s a sense in which too much is thrown into the mix. As each step of Harper’s, or Katherine’s (or name any other character) journey towards the end is taken, it seems more convenient (or inconvenient) truths are laid bare. A bit more of the prophecy crops up, or a mathematical conundrum or historical fact/family/act is expediently laid bare/discovered, which progresses the plot and characters forward. Sometimes, it seems so messy and hard to follow. There’s a sense of too much ex machina handiness that at times makes it difficult to suspend your disbelief. I am not sure why this happened at this stage, as in the previous two books, the context and world created made everything plausible within the tale. But maybe it’s just me.

The real and fantasy violence (which is breath-taking and fitting in terms of what’s occurring) is interspersed with inappropriate humour at times, and this I also found didn’t sit well. For example, Krinkle, particularly, as a character, while really interesting, was often given one-liners that detracted from the plot trajectory which was often fast and tight and meant you disengaged, thus destroying the flow of the narrative. His lexical interruptions made you wish he’d disappear in a cloud of ash. Likewise, the arch-villain and God, Komarovsky, is so dark and evil, he is almost a caricature. Any attractiveness or sensuality he once possessed has gone completely, but maybe that’s the point.

Once more, Steele takes us to amazing locations and peppers the book with different languages – Latin, Italian, Hebrew, French and so many more. Sometimes, this is as frustrating as it is interesting and a translation or at least contextualisation of the Latin particularly would have been rewarding. There are ways of doing this in fiction that aren’t didactic or obvious and I just wish Steel had deployed it a little more – particularly in this book where there is so much of it and so many references to the past.

In fact, it’s the scenes that take us back in time that I found really compelling. Whether it was with members of the Qumran Sect, the families (including the wonderful Israeli major) who have preserved and protected the angels’ secret for millennia, the Cathars, or the scenes which take us back to the time of Jesus, Herod and the Pharisees and Essenes, Steele evokes the past with a masterly hand.

A cross between an action-thriller, science fiction, police procedural, military strategy, fantasy-religious retelling and a philosophical treatise on the state of humankind, The Way of Sorrows has much to offer the reader and as far as novels that explore angelogy, is intelligent, well written and mostly, very gratifying.

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The Watchers by Jon Steele

13159052I 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.

 

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