Disclosure: This is not Cybils related. This book isn’t eligible for a Cybils anyway. Update: Looks like I was wrong! Angelfall’s Cybils nomination was approved this morning. Whoo!
From Amazon: It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.
Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.
Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.
Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.
The Best Book of 2011
In my humble opinion, the best book of 2011- I have read it. I’ve read a lot of very good books this year, but the best, the one I have now read three times and half of it in pieces a fourth time because I can’t stop picking it up just to go back, to immerse myself in my favorite scenes.
The book is called Angelfall by Susan Ee and chances are if you spend any time on the blogosphere, you’ve heard someone mention it. Word of mouth is spreading this book like a rumor at an all girl’s high school.
I discovered it from Margo. She told me about it when she read it and I nodded, intended to check it out, and promptly forgot about it until she posted about it in more detail on Wicked & Tricksy and I was faced with its very cool cover, though I think it was Margo’s obvious respect for the author that did it for me. If you can win over Margo, I’m hopeless.
Here’s what I find interesting about Angelfall’s cover – it doesn’t much look like a cover. It looks like art, something you might buy in poster form and put on your wall. It’s graphic, the contrast and color choices are beautifully paired, and it manages to pull a lot of conflicting emotions from me. I appreciate how complex this cover is, but it doesn’t look much like a cover. And I love that. It would have been too easy to put a sad, determined girl on the cover in a red dress standing beside a hunky, shirtless young man with an amazing white wing span before a landscape of ruined buildings. And it would have looked nice enough, but it would have looked like every other ever loving cover out there these days. Done and done, to death.
I love the dystopian, destroyed look of the running corrosion. Because the background encompasses the entire cover, it has the feel of going on and on forever passed the edges of the page, like a wall. Something one cannot hope to cross. A metaphor for the quest within the story. The layering of colors, light, and texture is lovely. Creepy, but lovely.
My favorite is the font choice for the title. Like the “wall” feeling of the background, the capital, serif, classical letters feel imposing, regimented, serious. There might be angels within this story, there might be a sad, determined girl and a hunky, feathered boy. But this isn’t a paranormal romance. This isn’t a soft plot or a typical dystopian. The title seems to say, There’s something serious going on inside, are you sure you have the guts to deal with it?
It’s written in first person, present tense. Let’s just get that out of the way now since a lot of people don’t like that narrative style. Let’s be clear though – you probably don’t like it when it’s done poorly, but Angelfall is written in it because it has to be. The narrative style pulls you in close, closer, uncomfortably personal to the characters, their desires, their motivations, and their fear. It wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if you were allowed for a second to get some distance. If Penryn and Raffe can’t escape, neither should you.
Also, it’s so well written you’ll forget about the narrative style in a couple of pages, I promise. The language flows like butter. Scenes are tight, word choices do double duty, so it looks sparse but packs a powerful emotional punch. Background is also sparse, another ingenious writing trick for pulling us deep into the story, unable and unwilling to try to pull out. We know that angels have attacked the world, killed billions. We know these angels are of the Biblical variety, terrifying city destroyers. We know humans have gone savage in order to survive. We know there’s a seventeen year old girl in the middle of it trying to keep her family together and find some place they can eke out some kind of existence. We don’t know why all this has happened though, but we want to. It is one of the many layers that keep us going. Mysteries and secrets are doled out like M&Ms, bite sized and delicious but leaving you yearning for more.
In the book, there are only four characters whose lives propel the story forward. Penryn – 17 years old, too grown up for her age but still flawed with all the mistakes of a 17 year old. Raffe, an angel whose wings have been cut, who has clearly had a falling out with others of his kind, who ends up traveling with Penryn. Paige, Penryn’s younger sister who gets taken by one of Raffe’s attackers. She has only a couple of scenes in the book, but her presence is constant. Penryn’s very human drive to put her family back together is the reason she does what she does with Raffe – out of desperation and a need so powerful she’s willing to do the one thing she would not do otherwise. This is the hallmark of the very best storytelling.
The last character is Penryn and Paige’s mother. If you ever want to understand how to make fully formed, important, engaging minor characters, study the character of the Mother in this book. She only has a handful of scenes too, but who she is, the kind of person she is, has made Penryn who SHE is, and you can’t have one without the other. The mother character is brilliantly thought out and executed – she could easily have come across as hokey and unbelievable, but instead this character leaves my skin crawling.
Is Angelfall YA?
I’ve seen this topic come up before. Margo mentioned it. The question is, is Angelfall YA? The main character is 17, after all.
The answer is yes, it is young adult, but not because of the age of the main character. It’s also not young young adult. It says it’s for 16 and older, and while some younger readers might enjoy it, I think 16 and up is a good age for this book.
The reason it is young adult is because of the character Penryn, the trials she faces, the growth she undergoes, the themes surrounding her character, and the classic transition from teenager to adult that the book moves toward. In the beginning she might seem like she has it together, more so than any of the adults that surround her, but she’s still just a kid, confused and alone and needy. She might not know how to express this, but her journey alone with a predator – her enemy – makes her come to terms with her childish ways. Forces her to grow into a new woman. She might have survived in the beginning, but by the end she has the strength and knowledge and experience to thrive. In the beginning she still clings to mother and family, but by the end they fulfill her without being a crutch. These themes make this book absolutely young adult.
But, and there is a big but here, this book has some graphic violence in it. Sort of. There’s very little violence on the page that we see and follow along with (thank god, its first person after all.) But the threat of violence from other humans, the violence that has already happened, the violence that could happen, are pretty traumatic even if we don’t read about them directly. Even Penryn is violent toward Raffe. There’s some pretty disturbing imagery toward the end too. Nothing a 16 year old has never seen or read or watched in a movie, but I think it is worth knowing this ahead of time. You should also know that the violence that does occur is not gratuitous. It makes sense to the story, there’s a reason for it, it’s not to shock and titillate you.
Unlike your typical paranormal stories, this one doesn’t have the big romance pay off most will be expecting from a young girl and a hot angel wandering the wilderness together. These two characters are enemies. He calls humans monkeys and she is willing to torture him for his help getting her sister back. These are not emotions that generally lead to long gazes across rooms and soft kisses in the moonlight. Their partnership is tenuous, based on need and survival and that makes the few moments of compassion and the threat of intimacy more genuine and valuable. There’s no romance in Angelfall. One doesn’t do romance while running for one’s life from monsters – both the human and paranormal kind. One doesn’t do romance when one is starving and exhausted and afraid.
Instead there is something like hunger and something like need. Something indescribable, thrilling. Frightening.
See why I said it was the best book of 2011? You think I’d kid you about something like that?
Susan Ee’s website (you can read 5 free chapters here)
Update: Susan’s blog has been updated to add that the second book in the series is due out in the summer of 2012 and that there will eventually be a printed version of the book.
You can still sign-up for MonsterFest 2011 here.
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