Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Amazon Made Me Do It

This review is posted as part of the A More Diverse Universe Reading Tour.

At just about the time I was looking into more speculative fiction by authors of color, Amazon slapped up a big ol' ad for Angelfall, by Susan Ee.  And while I have avoided a lot of the YA fantasy trends (vampires, werewolves, and, yes, angels) for quite a while, I was very much in the mood to say "yes."  So I said it, and clicked it, and Amazon sold me a book.

Well played, Amazon.

This fits right in with the rest of my summer reading--it's fast, action packed, and fantastical.  It starts out with a pretty standard YA end of the world feel, and the YA feeling is enhanced because all the characters speak in a very modern way.  You don't know where the angels come from, but they talk like they're from California or Kansas--the here and now.  There's no high drama in the language.

What you get is nonstop action.  Good action, too.  This is a world that has been ravaged by angels who have rained destruction down on the major cities.  What people remain hide in fear of roving bands of angels, and of the gangs that have filled in the gaps left in the absence of civilization.  Penryn is a resourceful young woman who takes care of her mentally ill mother and her wheelchair-bound sister.  When they are caught in an angel-on-angel battle, Penryn's sister is taken, and Penryn reluctantly teams up with a wounded angel to save her.

Now, there are a decent number of plot points here that don't bear close scrutiny.  A few well-chosen conversations would make things a lot clearer, for the reader and the characters.  There are some things that are treated as fact that seem wildly unlikely, even within the confines of the story (why didn't they just kill that person? given what we know about angels, is it likely that they'd be able to do XYZ?).  But the book this reminded me of most was Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study.  Not that the stories are anything alike, but that they rocket along so fast and so thrillingly that if there are holes and weaknesses, I hardly notice them, and less do I care.  

Reading the book for A More Diverse Universe, I was probably more conscious than I would otherwise have been of Penryn's ethnicity, which is not identified in the story at all.  Aside from having long, dark hair and being relatively small, there are no physical descriptions of her, or of most of the main characters.  I pictured her as Asian as I'm reading the book, but there's very little in the text to support that (her childhood nickname is Ryn-Ryn). 

I don't think it makes sense to lay any particular expectations on the author just because I'm going into this with an awareness of her ethnicity.  This isn't a book about a Chinese character, though she might be Chinese-American.  What matters in this story is that Penryn is tough, strong, trained in martial arts, and devoted to her sister. 

Speaking of her martial arts experience, though, I'm reminded of something somewhat problematic about the book.  Penryn's mother is schizophrenic.  This is a pretty big plot point--she's off her medication (end of the world, you know), and so is intermittently violent.  On one hand, there are some really touching passages about the complexities of having a mother so ill--not knowing who you're going to find when you come home, having to be the grown-up in the relationship, loving her and fearing her and being angry at her all at the same time.

But on the other hand, the book really emphasizes how violent--horrifyingly violent, really--her mom is.  There's a line: "We now play a permanent game of I-am-crazier-and-scarier-than-you.  And in that game, my mother is our secret weapon."  I don't know a lot about schizophrenia, but the intense emphasis on the really unpleasant violence her mother is capable of is not doing any favors for the image of mental illness.  Not a lot of schizophrenics are violent, especially not like Penryn's mom.

The violence is another aspect of this to note--it starts out as an actiony book, but by the end, there's some really, really horrifying stuff.  Like violent, gross, intensely horrifying moments.  I don't want to spoil it, but I am hard to shock, and I was pretty shocked.  It almost came out of the blue--I think I'm reading a book with one level of awful, and then a whole other level shows up.  It's like you're reading a book about Nazis and then toward the end Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft pop up, and the ending gets all woah.

Still, the upshot is that I'm really having fun reading this book.  It's nice to start out this blog tour with something fast-paced and fitting with my light reading mood.  Oh, and I should warn you: it's a trilogy.  I know, I know.  Sorry about that.


Liviania said...

I've been wondering about this one. I think the depiction of the mom might bother me, though schizophrenics can have hallucinations that cause them to act violently, especially if off their meds.

I think I've been avoiding this one because I thought it was a dystopian.

Tanya Patrice said...

Now I'm kind of interested - although gratuitous violence does turn me off a bit, so I might read this one when all the books in the series are out.

Aarti said...

Wow, great review! I love that you impulsively bought a book and enjoyed it as much as you did! I am unsure if I would enjoy it. I liked Poison Study but was not a big fan of the two books that followed it. And I don't know that I would enjoy the violence - it is hard for me to read those.

It has taken me four tries to pass word verification so far - I hope you appreciate my efforts :-)

Buried In Print said...

Timing is everything with books, isn't it? It's great that it worked out so perfectly for you with this one; it sounds very entertaining, engaging and provocative (in a good way).

LibraryHungry said...

The funny thing is that, reading more, I think this book was one of those Kindle success stories--I don't know if it was self-published, but it was a very minor book that made it because of cheap Kindle downloads and people like me. I'm part of a zeitgeist!