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.
So, 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.