REVIEW: Archangel by Sharon Shinn
Dear Ms. Shinn,
I think Archangel is a wonderful book. One might even say heavenly.
Most of the inhabitants of Samaria are mortals, but the world also has angels who, by taking wing and praying to the god Jovah through song can ask the god for favorable weather and other aid. Once a year, the Samarian people gather for the annual Gloria, and sing prayers together to show unity and harmony. The Gloria is led by the archangel, leader of all the angels, and indeed, the most powerful person on Samaria, and his or her spouse, the angelica or angelico. Both archangel and spouse are chosen by the god Jovah himself. It is written in Samaria’s holiest text, the Librera, that if the Gloria does not take place as prescribed, Jovah will destroy Samaria.
The angel Gabriel is not only a proud man (I use the word man because except for their wings, their beautiful voices and one or two other physical abilities, the angels on Samaria are as fallible as any person), but as the leader of a third of Samaria’s angels, he is also a very busy one. Jovah selected Gabriel at age fifteen to become archangel on the Gloria of his thirtieth year, and that date is only six months away when Gabriel goes to the oracle to inquire as to the identity of his bride-to-be.
Gabriel expects Jovah’s choice of angelica to be a wealthy merchant or landholder’s daughter. He is stunned to find out that she is a poor hill farmer’s daughter named Rachel. When he searches Rachel out, Gabriel discovers that her village was destroyed eighteen years before. Through some detective work, he learns that Rachel was adopted by one of the clans of the Edori, a nomadic people who practice what some consider a heretical faith. It appears that Rachel’s clan was attacked and its members killed or enslaved. The oracle assures him that Rachel is still alive, but Gabriel has no idea how to find her, and he is doubly frustrated when he is forced to interrupt his search to attend a wedding at a wealthy man’s home.
The morning after the wedding, a slave girl comes to light the fire in his room. By a burning sensation in a crystal embedded in his arm, and by the lights showing in the crystal in her own arm, Gabriel recognized that the slave is his chosen wife.
Rachel has been a slave for five years and is finally about to be set free when the Archangel-elect announces to her that she is to be given one of the highest honors on Samaria — the position of angelica. But to Rachel this honor is suspect; as far as she is concerned it may as well be another form of enslavement. She only reluctantly agrees to a marriage of convenience with Gabriel.
At first Gabriel and Rachel are at odds over nearly everything, and it is only gradually, as they contend with some of the bigger conflicts on Samaria, and with the corrupt angel Raphael, who does not want to step down as archangel, that they begin to realize that perhaps the god did not make a mistake when he chose to pair them.
Reading Archangel was a bit like entering a vivid dream. I was flooded with beautiful images as I traveled Samaria, from the alabaster city of Semorrah
. . . a huge, impossibly beautiful city constructed of milk-white stone — all its spires, domes, archways, towers and sanctuaries built of the same pale rock [approached] across the fabulous webbed bridge from Jordana, a delicate affair of ropes and steel that looked no more substantial than string…
to the angels’ Eyrie, where voices are always raised in song, a hold built of
…lustrous rosy rock, luminous as quartz in some areas, dense as granite elsewhere, but always faintly glowing, rich to the eye, sleek to the touch
to the artisans’ city of Luminaux, with its blue marble buildings, violet cobblestones, turquoise and lapis lazuli statues, where
even the darkening sky was an unmarred indigo.
Against this backdrop angels take wing, voices soar, and Rachel and Gabriel fall in love. I too fell in love as I read Archangel, not only with the gorgeous world of Samaria, but with the wonderful characters.
Gabriel is a man who struggles to do what is right for all the people of Samaria, and an angel who watches this world from above, doing his best to protect it from harm. His determination to keep Samaria safe is heroic, even as it sometimes blinds him to other things. Gabriel also feels a powerful sense of duty, and though many responsibilities rest on his shoulders, over and over he finds his mind returning to Rachel.
As for Rachel, she is strong-willed, rebellious, stubborn, and always willing to champion the downtrodden. After five years of slavery, her freedom feels vital to her, as does helping those who need help. It takes Rachel a long time to realize what is most important to her, but when she finally does, she makes a gesture that is one of the most romantic things I’ve ever read in a book.
The development of Gabriel and Rachel’s romance isn’t always easy to watch; there were times when I wanted to give them a shake or tell them to open their eyes. But it’s a relationship that never feels less than real, and the ending is so wonderful that I’m very glad I made the journey.
There are terrific side characters in this book as well, all of them so believable that I could almost hold a conversation with them.
I also love your graceful and lucid writing style, your good dialogue and your lovely descriptions. Smooth doesn’t begin to describe the flow of your words; reading them is like floating on water or sinking into a soft cloud.
Although Archangel isn’t flawless, it’s something better: a marvelous reading experience. I give it an A.