My first and inevitably my last novel by Sharon Shinn, ARCHANGEL explores a girl's faith in a story with strong Christian overtones. A fantasy novel preaching about having faith, there's a lot of bickering (between hero & heroine) in ARCHANGEL. ARCHANGEL's world is a sort of a religious utopia, and its grand city of Luminaux represents the height of the Utopian principles in all aspects: economy, social position, politics, etc. Every man in Luminaux goes to the job he loves, there's no such thing as a menial job in Luminaux. Through the nomadic, yet persecuted, gypsy-like Edori, the Edori customs and ways represent the height of a free, giving race; the Edori are perfect, all of their people good and wholesome beyond belief.
ARCHANGEL views all rich merchants in a very evil light, summarily condemning all of them and religiously denouncing all of their capitalistic practices to gain wealth. Simplistically, beautiful people are either power-hunger mongrels (Raphael) or ditzy dolts (Judith), except for our handsome hero Gabriel of course. "Metaphorical and ethical speculation was wasted on the literal-minded (and beautiful) Judith," Gabriel notes at one point.
There's 3 provinces in ARCHANGEL's world, with 3 angels to lead each province and an archangel which oversees everyone (included as 1 of the 3 "leading" angels). The archangel term lasts 20 years and oracles deduce from God the next chosen Archangel and his Angelica (or Angelico). Like most fantasy novels written by authors interested in romance, you have some sort of a soul-mate storyline and also similar to other other novels, you have the hero accepting it and quickly embracing his soul-mate (angelica) while the heroine very reluctant for the majority of the novel. In ARCHANGEL in fact, the heroine Rachel is resistant until the very last page of this 390-page superior paperback. There really isn't any warring factions or violence in ARCHANGEL's world as everyone lives in awe and fear of the Almighty God. The angels' power? Basically they pray in hymns and song to entreat god to help effect weather changes. Rain for farmers during a drought, for instance. The hero Gabriel is the most competent of the singing angels. There's plenty of concerts in the novel if you haven't guessed already by the way.
Finally, god tracks its "children" through the "Kiss of God," acorn-sized balls grafted into everyone's arms when they're a baby (similarly to a baptism). The balls illuminate when they're near people god wants to them love for bloodlines and procreation, and it's also supposed to help people find their true love. Even the final monumental climax is left in the hands of god.
Even though ARCHANGEL tells us early via its oracle Jesiah that the Archangel-elect Gabriel's Angelica will humble him, I thought it was his angelica Rachel that needed the humbling. The story begins with Rachel working as a slave in an affluent merchant household. Oh and just to preserve our heroine, this particular merchant household doesn't allow anyone to molest women slaves. The annual event Gloria, which celebrates, worships, sings and prays to god, is only 6 months away, and this year it marks the transition of power from the previous archangel Raphael to the archangel-elect Gabriel. Gabriel needs to track down his angelica quickly and God (via the oracle) is there to point him in the right direction. Handy!
The book clumps along as Gabriel finds Rachel early on and they fight with each other and other elements interfering in their confirmation as Archangel and Angelica on Gloria 6 months away.
I couldn't stand the story's religious preaching, I couldn't stand Rachel's character, and I couldn't stand anything about the other plots.
I had high hopes though. I liked how the heroine Rachel wasn't a virgin, I liked how she didn't swoon and melt at the hero's touch (only at his singing in this case), and I liked how Gabriel was very virtuous, and not the notorious libertine we find from romantic historicals. In case you're interested, there's no passionate scenes here, only goes as far as kissing.
Possible SPOILERS ahead, and various musings.
Rachel acts pretty superior and childish throughout, it's as though she alone understands the trials and tribulations of the poor and underprivileged. Anyone with a modicum of wealth or ambitions for fortune in Sharon Shinn's world are shunned as evil and power hungry. Certainly, this generalization holds true everywhere. Rachel flaunts her Edori heritage as superior to everyone and everything else. She's very juvenile and frosty with her husband too. By my count, Gabriel apologized to her at least 4 times for things he didn't know or understand about her, and he always shows her kindness and affection. Rachel reacts in her obligatory I-art-holier-than-thou attitude. When Rachel walks in on Gabriel and Judith, she secures Gabriel's promise later on that he has never slept with and never will sleep with Judith. They had begun fighting for a while, but this promise seems to have placated her. Inexplicably, they transition into a more amiable conversation. The amiable transition didn't follow after a heated discussion where both accused the other of infidelities. The author felt the need for Gabriel to comfort Rachel and dispel her misgivings, but not the other way around.
And it's Rachel who flirts with Obadiah, and the Edori Isaac and Adam. It's Rachel who kisses Isaac and Adam. I actually wanted to see Rachel get busy with Isaac & Adam and reject Gabriel. At least then Gabriel would be free of her. Lord.
I especially don't understand Rachel's cold desire to destroy an entire city, the city of Semorrah. For a Good Samaritan devoted to the betterment of the needy (she sets up a children's shelter and school), she wants to indiscriminately kill everyone in a city, she wants an entire city to pay for its slavery practices? Her friend the Lady Mary who lives in Semorahh would die too wouldn't she? Huh? What? How does this compute? At least think about vengeance discriminately, against the Jensai slavers maybe? Not an entire city!
It's so horrific to be an Archangel-elect's angelica in Rachel's mind. She doesn't want to be an angelica (predictably), and more than twice she thinks she will not forgive Gabriel for bringing her. She will not forgive Gabriel for freeing her from slavery and bestowing upon her every kindness and lavish comfort at her fingertips. Now she finds herself in a position of power to do something about the unfair poverty and build shelters and schools for orphaned children, yet of course she will not forgive Gabriel for plucking her out of slavery. Obviously, all of Rachel's childish reactions and juvenile fits of defiance serve simply as a ploy to add some romantic tension. Poor delivery in the novel here, because I didn't see so much a romantic tension than I did a childish juvenile rebelling against everyone and everything for the sake of being contrary. I thought Rachel was 25 and not a teenager?
Like heroes and heroines from other romance novels, ARCHANGEL has Gabriel justify Rachel's disdainful and combative disposition towards him by having Gabriel think he would prefer willful wife than a submissive one. Well, it is possible to be willful and not quite so bitchy. Gabriel shows her caring and kindness at almost every turn, attempting to talk to her but predictably she lashes out at the only person who will take it, her husband Gabriel. Shinn has Gabriel think and care for Rachel relatively early despite her belligerent, bratty attitude. In fact, Gabriel is constantly remorseful (for having to be away from Rachel), caring and affectionate towards Rachel. Consistently, Rachel fails to reciprocate Gabriel's caring and instead presents Gabriel with a childish, spiteful disdain. Stop whining and get over yourself for once.
Gabriel bestows every courtesy and kindness to Rachel. Gabriel makes an elevator lift available for Rachel to subvert her fear of heights, Gabriel agrees to provide funding for Rachel's shelter and school for orphaned children, Gabriel gives her gold bracelets as her wedding present, Gabriel asks after her well-being at every chance, it's always Gabriel who feels remorse for parting with Rachel badly (even though Rachel is equally to blame), for all of Rachel's juvenile fits of defiance and anger, it's always Gabriel apologizing and seeking forgiveness, it's Gabriel giving her gold-embroidered gloves as a gift.
In response, Rachel openly flaunts her friendship with the angel Obadiah, a close friendship which chafes her husband Gabriel.
The immature adolescence Rachel so exuberantly sponsors ranges to levels far beyond my comprehension. Get this. At this end, she's beyond petty and vindictive. Gabriel is aware Rachel's most fervent "justice" is to see the entire city of Semerroh destroyed. When it's clear that just such a feat will come to fruition if she will not sing, she uses that knowledge to test Gabriel's love and devotion to her instead, spiting him for not believing in her. When she threatens the city and its people if Gabriel doesn't promise to leave her alone, Gabriel quickly acquiesces to her ludicrous demands. After, she cries thinking how she wanted Gabriel to risk destroying hundreds of people so he would say he would rather have her instead. Despite telling her before that the only angelica he would ever accept by his side would be Rachel, and that he wouldn't choose another angelica had she died. Despite telling her that he would always come back to her if he ever leaves. Despite comforting her and protecting her, despite sheltering her under his sensitive wings no one is supposed to touch.
Man, I've never seen a character so selfish, so childish, so juvenile, so immaturely spiteful as ARCHANGEL's Rachel. And she hates Gabriel for choosing to save hundreds of lives instead of be with her, an ultimatum she herself lays down. Are you serious? Is that even a choice? That's no choice at all, any likable hero would sacrifice himself and his beloved in a heartbeat if not doing so meant the death to thousands of other innocents. There is nothing romantic about this retarded "choice" Rachel tests Gabriel with.
After all this, Rachel stays away for months traveling with the Edori and then when she finally decides she wants Gabriel back, she tests him yet again. She makes Gabriel with his broad wings walk through iron stakes on the top of a mountain he can't land on. Yep. Childish. Juvenile. Petty. Vindictive. Adolescent.
This book is garbage. I need to take my own advise, and I'll stop whining now. Needed to vent! Oh by the way, the prose and settings aren't half bad (though nothing great).