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REVIEW: Archangel by Sharon Shinn

Dear Ms. Shinn,

shinn-archangel.gif

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.

Sincerely,

Janine

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

20 Comments

  1. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 07:43:38

    Sharon Shinn writes beautiful stories. I’ve read all of the Archangel books. The first one is my fave, though. She also wrote one called Heart of Gold, (think that is the title) that is excellent.

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  2. Dance Chica
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 08:23:32

    I’m glad to hear you enjoy these. I have Archangel in my TBR pile and I’m really looking forward to reading it because I’ve heard so many good things about it.

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  3. Keishon
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 09:47:36

    Loved this book when I first read it – a long time ago. My mom loved them as well. I think she may have universal appeal? Excellent writer. There’s only one Shinn I didn’t really care for –Heart of Gold. She just dropped a new book today, Dark Moon Defender.

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  4. Janine
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 10:37:13

    [quote comment="4386"]Sharon Shinn writes beautiful stories. I’ve read all of the Archangel books. The first one is my fave, though. She also wrote one called Heart of Gold, (think that is the title) that is excellent.[/quote]

    I agree, and yes, that is the correct title. A very interesting book.

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  5. Janine
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 10:39:05

    [quote comment="4388"]I’m glad to hear you enjoy these. I have Archangel in my TBR pile and I’m really looking forward to reading it because I’ve heard so many good things about it.[/quote]

    I hope you enjoy the book, Dance.

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  6. Janine
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 10:47:37

    [quote comment="4393"]Loved this book when I first read it – a long time ago. My mom loved them as well. I think she may have universal appeal? Excellent writer. There’s only one Shinn I didn’t really care for –Heart of Gold. She just dropped a new book today, Dark Moon Defender.[/quote]

    Yes, Dark Moon Defender is coming out today. It’s the third book in Shinn’s Twelve Houses series. I am really looking forward to reading it. I liked Heart of Gold very much, although it took a long time for the hero and heroine to meet. I’m glad to hear that you liked Archangel, Keishon.

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  7. Rosario
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 12:32:23

    I loved the one Shinn book that I read, Heart of Gold (Keishon, didn’t we both read it for the group read?), so I meant to read more by her. I’ve no idea why I haven’t yet. Reading this review has made me want to read Archangel NOW.

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  8. Robin
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 12:49:52

    I read this book a couple of weeks ago — it was my first Shinn — and I’m still t hinking about it.

    Although I’m not sure how well it would go over with a lot of Romance readers, for some reason, the way Shinn developed the relationship between Gabriel and Rachel felt more romantic to me — in the grand sense — than more than a few relationships I’ve read in Romance. Maybe it’s because I didn’t go into the book expecting that they would end up falling in love, or maybe it was just the way Shinn built the tension between the two, but the way she used the theme of harmony worked really well for me. Because in the end, it wasn’t about Rachel and Gabriel singing the same notes, but rather that they blended together such that the unity of their voices seemed greater than the mere joining of individual notes. Their relationship felt the same to me, and I really loved how Shinn could focus on their feelings for one another while still fleshing out the larger project of Samaria and its various issues, problems, and priorities.

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  9. Keishon
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 13:27:05

    I loved the one Shinn book that I read, Heart of Gold (Keishon, didn't we both read it for the group read?),

    Yes, I remember. I think I was the only one that didn’t like it :-(

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  10. Janine
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 13:28:12

    [quote comment="4404"]I loved the one Shinn book that I read, Heart of Gold (Keishon, didn’t we both read it for the group read?), so I meant to read more by her. I’ve no idea why I haven’t yet. Reading this review has made me want to read Archangel NOW.[/quote]

    One of our hopes in doing “Sharon Shinn week” was to tempt people into picking up her books, so it’s good to hear that, Rosario. :) Also nice to find another fan of Heart of Gold.

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  11. Janine
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 13:38:24

    the way Shinn developed the relationship between Gabriel and Rachel felt more romantic to me -" in the grand sense -" than more than a few relationships I've read in Romance.

    I feel the same way.

    Maybe it's because I didn't go into the book expecting that they would end up falling in love, or maybe it was just the way Shinn built the tension between the two, but the way she used the theme of harmony worked really well for me. Because in the end, it wasn't about Rachel and Gabriel singing the same notes, but rather that they blended together such that the unity of their voices seemed greater than the mere joining of individual notes. Their relationship felt the same to me, and I really loved how Shinn could focus on their feelings for one another while still fleshing out the larger project of Samaria and its various issues, problems, and priorities.

    The theme of harmony plays a big role in the other books in this series as well, although some of the relationships in the later books are quieter. I think it works very well both on the level of harmony between the different people that make up the society of Samaria and on the level of harmony within a romantic relationship.

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  12. AAR Rachel
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 18:29:46

    I love this book; I think it was one of my earlier DIK’s for AAR, and I’ve re-read it a bunch of times since then. I’m looking forward to your interview!

    What was interesting to me about the book was the aspect of faith. In some ways I thought the book was almost like an inspirational – but a more thoughtful one. Of course, when you go on to read the rest of the series, it becomes clear that what is happening is much more complex, but the author still uplifts belief, ceremony, and observance in Archangel. Interesting. And exhilerating.

    And I love Rachel’s little house at the end. I love that she has somewhere to go to be herself and rest and get away from everyone. Even though I totally bought into the HEA between Gabriel and Rachel, it’s clear that their relationship will never be easy. I loved that he had to walk up the hill and humble himself to reconcile with her. Gabriel is such a proud character and has reason to be, but I think Rachel will keep him humble.

    Great book!

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  13. Angelle Trieste
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 18:35:39

    I really love Sharon Shinn, and I need to get her latest books. :)

    ReplyReply

  14. Janine
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 20:49:44

    I love this book; I think it was one of my earlier DIK’s for AAR, and I’ve re-read it a bunch of times since then. I’m looking forward to your interview!

    I enjoyed your AAR review and I hope you enjoy the interview.

    What was interesting to me about the book was the aspect of faith. In some ways I thought the book was almost like an inspirational – but a more thoughtful one. Of course, when you go on to read the rest of the series, it becomes clear that what is happening is much more complex, but the author still uplifts belief, ceremony, and observance in Archangel. Interesting. And exhilerating.

    I didn’t think of Archangel as similar to an inspirational because I didn’t find it preachy, and because the Samarian faith, though similar in some ways to Judaism and Christianity, was different from them in other ways. But I very much liked that Shinn showed that the characters’ faith was important to them. I thought it added another dimension to the characters.

    In some romances, it feels like what is most important to the characters is their romantic feelings. In this book, romantic feelings are very important but so are other things, like faith and social justice. I thought that this made the romance more romantic, because it showed that the characters were people with full lives and that made everything about them, including their romantic feelings, feel more real.

    And I love Rachel’s little house at the end. I love that she has somewhere to go to be herself and rest and get away from everyone. Even though I totally bought into the HEA between Gabriel and Rachel, it’s clear that their relationship will never be easy. I loved that he had to walk up the hill and humble himself to reconcile with her. Gabriel is such a proud character and has reason to be, but I think Rachel will keep him humble.

    I love the house and Gabriel’s walk up to it also. That ending was terribly romantic.

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  15. Janine
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 20:57:20

    [quote comment="4414"]I really love Sharon Shinn, and I need to get her latest books. :)[/quote]

    We’ll be reviewing a couple of the later ones this week. :-)

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  16. Rosario
    Oct 09, 2006 @ 16:20:44

    One of our hopes in doing -Sharon Shinn week- ? was to tempt people into picking up her books, so it's good to hear that, Rosario.

    Well, you’ve certainly tempted me! I read Archangel this weekend and was totally blown away :-)

    ReplyReply

  17. julie
    Nov 19, 2007 @ 21:26:09

    archangel was one of the best book ever written,,i really
    fell in love with this book..its kinda magical..^_^
    the story was really provocative..not to mention angel gabriel whom i wish was real.

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  18. 12 Fantasy Books that should be Movies « moonlit garden
    Mar 26, 2009 @ 19:08:41

    [...] climate. What’s in it for me:  The angels flying.  The angels singing. A review. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)10 SF Books that should be MoviesThe Sci-Fi [...]

  19. Chenebe
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 02:52:18

    One of my favourite science fiction/fantasy/romance novels, along with Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold.

    I re-read this as often as I do Pride and Prejudice!

    ReplyReply

  20. Lady Jaye
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 09:28:13

    I’m really late to the party, but I just wanted to join in the chorus and say I loved Archangel…and most books by Sharon Shinn. Her writing is wonderful, and i loved the way you describe it.

    She is one of my very first autobuy/DIK authors, and the one who firmly entrenched my love of fantasy.

    ReplyReply

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