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REVIEW: Archangel’s Legion by Nalini Singh

Dear Ms Singh,

When I heard that the sixth book in your Guild Hunter series would be a fourth book about Elena and Raphael, I gave a mental groan. Book three, Archangel’s Consort, made me feel the conflict between this couple was played out. I would rather read Aodhan’s book, or Illium’s, or Venom’s, or, most of all, Sorrow’s, than a retread of the old argument about whether it’s safe for Elena to have the freedom she needs to be herself.

Nalini Singh Archangel's Legion But in order to read those other characters’ books and not be lost, I figured I’d need to read this one. Fortunately for me, this book turned out not to be as much of a retread as I had feared. While the conflicts that came up between Elena and Raphael were rooted in the relationship that had been established in Angels’ Blood, Archangel’s Kiss and Archangel’s Consort, the issues between them played out differently, with the characters, Raphael especially, showing real growth.

Before I get to that, though, here is a summary of the novel’s opening. Archangel’s Legion begins with Raphael delivering two pieces of news to Elena: His mother, the ancient archangel Caliane, has invited them to a ball celebrating the city of Amanat’s awakening, and the archangel Michaela, endangered by the coming Cascade, has requested shelter and protection for herself and for the unborn child she carries.

These two pieces of news, dismaying as they are to Elena, are quickly eclipsed by storm clouds that turn out to be made up of birds. Then the birds begin to fall from Manhattan’s sky, and soon angels are falling in their wake.

As Elena sets up an infirmary in hers and Raphael’s home, receives reports of injured angels from Sara and relays them to Aodhan who, in Dmitri’s absence, is in charge of tower operations, Raphael ascends in the midst of The Falling to catch and rescue younger angels.

When The Falling ends, hundreds of New York’s angels are out of commission, forcing Raphael to recall some of his forces who are stationed further away to protect a vulnerable Manhattan.

Raphael believes The Falling is a sign that the Cascade, an event that brings archangels greater powers as well as madness and inhumanity, is burgeoning. One of the archangels may have attained the power to make angels fall from the skies, but even via process of elimination, Raphael and Elena can’t figure out who it is.

That night, Raphael dreams of the field in which Caliane left him to die, and he begins to hear haunting whispers asking him who he is. When he wakes, Elena sees fire in his wings, but Raphael dismisses it as an illusion of the light.

Meanwhile, Elena faces challenges of her own. Her father’s rejection has brought her younger half-sister Eve, a guild hunter in training, to tears, and Elena is determined to confront Jeffrey. Another guild hunter has apparently lost it and purchased an arsenal of guns, and now Elena and her fellow hunter Ransom must track him down. Worst of all, in the midst of that hunt, Elena and Ransom discover a dead vampire who appears to have been infected with a lethal disease.

All of this is only the beginning. Archangel’s Legion also sees Raphael and Elena forging new alliances in preparation for the coming war with their old and creepy enemy, the Archangel Lijuan, and the unknown new enemy who has created the disease and caused The Falling.

For although Raphael, like all the Archangels, is evolving, for him accepting new powers may mean losing his humanity, something neither he nor Elena wants. Yet if he rejects the new powers that come with the Cascade, New York may be vulnerable to his enemies’ attack. To defeat Lijuan and the disease-maker, Raphael will need to gather every ally he and Elena have. It will take a legion of fighters to win the coming war.

As may be evident from this plot summary, Archangel’s Legion relies a lot on external conflict,with much less internal conflict (by which I mean conflict that takes place in a main character’s heart and mind) than I usually like. At this point, four books into Elena and Raphael’s relationship, that is probably a good thing – if these two were still making up their minds about what they felt for each other, I’d be frustrated with them.

There is some internal conflict though, and I really appreciated that it wasn’t the same one we’d seen in the earlier books. Instead the conflicts within the characters centered on Elena’s unconscious trust issues resulting from her father’s painful rejection of her, and Raphael’s need to protect his people, something that accepting new powers could make possible, versus his fears of losing his humanity and his love for Elena if he did take on the new powers that the Cascade offered him.

Archangel's Legion UK Cover

Archangel’s Legion UK Cover

What I really liked about both these issues is that they felt like progress for both characters. Consciously Elena trusted Raphael, but unconsciously it was harder for her to believe he would always be there for her in a way that her father had not. This was not about her thinking Raphael was an overweening jerk, but about something that went deeper than that.

Meanwhile, on Raphael’s side, his desire to hang on to his humanity felt like a big step, especially when comparing the Raphael of this book to the Raphael we encountered at the beginning of book one, Angels’ Blood. While I’ve enjoyed reading about Raphael in some of the past books, this was the first book in the series in which I truly sympathized with him. It was evident he wanted to remain caring toward his people, even as he wanted to protect them from powerful enemies, but he didn’t know if it was possible to do both.

If I have a criticism on the Elena/Raphael side of this book, it’s that although I’m far from a prude, most of the sex scenes didn’t engage me that much. I didn’t skim them, but I was tempted to do so in some cases. There are only so many ways to write about the same couple having sex, and by the fourth book, Raphael and Elena’s relationship’s bedroom dynamics don’t feel that fresh anymore, so I hope there won’t be quite so many sex scenes in the next Elena/Raphael novel.

As far as the external conflict in the novel goes, with so many irons in their enemies’ fire, the external conflicts were numerous and big, especially in Archangel’s Legion’s climactic scenes. I don’t want to give those away, but suffice to say that Raphael and Elena’s world is rocked by something that happens near the end, and that event left me eager to read more in this series.

One thing that did bother me a bit was that though some of what happened was brutal, none of the characters I had an emotional investment in died. I’m not usually one to advocate for characters’ deaths (in fact I generally hate when that happens), but in this case, the death of a minor character we’d come to care about at least a little would have gone a long way toward grounding the storyline in reality.

Overall though, the external conflict was one of the strengths of this book. I was grateful that there wasn’t as much disturbing / horrific stuff going on as there was in Archangel’s Kiss, while at the same time the storyline felt fresher and more eventful to me than in Archangel’s Consort. There was even some progress on the Jeffrey/Elena front, something I’ve hungered for since book one.

While I’d still prefer books about characters I don’t know as well as I know these two by now (there is more mystery surrounding those less-well-known characters and therefore also more opportunities to be genuinely surprised by things they say and do), I think I’ll be more receptive to the idea of another Elena/Raphael book than I was to the idea of this one. B for Archangel’s Legion.

Sincerely,

Janine

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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.

19 Comments

  1. Kati
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 11:22:01

    I really liked this book. Like you, Janine, I had serious reservations about returning to Elena & Raphael’s story for fear of it being stale (Archangel’s Consort bored me). But the author did a great job of drawing me back in with the events at the climax of the book.

    But I also think you have a really strong point about raising the stakes within the frame of the story by killing off a minor character. I’d have liked to have seen her take a real risk with that (despite the chance of readers being unhappy). I’ve always admired Joss Whedon as a storyteller because one of the first tenants of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that no one, no one at all, is safe. Ever. I think the world built by Singh lends itself well to that tenant, given the brutality of the mythology and the total power held by the archangels.

    All of that being said, I’m desperate for Aodhan to have his HEA, and I’m intrigued by Caliane and what her return to power means for angel society. Plus, I’ve always appreciated that Nalini always has a bigger plan for her series books, so I’m definitely sticking with the series.

    I’d grade the book at a B+, so I’m right with you on the DA Recommended Read.

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  2. Elaine
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 11:26:55

    I’ve already got tomorrow blocked out. I’ve promised myself that I won’t download it until I get all the critters fed tomorrow morning. They may be a little surprised about how early they get breakfast, but I doubt they will complain.

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  3. Patricia Eimer
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 11:57:58

    I was going to give this one a pass because the third book bored me so much but I might have to give this a go now.

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  4. Janine
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 12:07:26

    @Kati: Yeah, as mentioned in the review I had issues with Archangel’s Consort, and for that matter, with Archangel’s Kiss as well. I think the main reason this book sucked me in so much is that it showed that Elena and Raphael had finally moved past the “I need my freedom/I need to keep you safe” conflict. Not only was there growth on both their parts, the new conflicts that replaced the old freedom vs. security conflict felt fresher and more specific to Elena and Raphael as individuals.

    What I mean by this is that I’ve read freedom vs. security arguments in other PNR series like J.R. Ward’s and Thea Harrison’s, but the conflicts in this book (childhood baggage courtesy of Jeremy, a need to protect New York while retaining humanity ) aren’t commonplace in the genre. I really appreciated that Singh dug into her character’s fears and needs to create the tension instead of relying on a genre staple.

    Re. the Joss Whedon thing — I sometimes have difficulty with that in his series finales. He doesn’t just kill off minor characters, but also major, beloved ones. I wouldn’t necessarily want that to happen in a book like Archangel’s Legion, but there were enough minor characters we’d come to like and care about that one or two could have been lost in the battle at the end in order to give the war more weight. POSSIBLE SPOILER: There was so much emphasis on the danger the enemy presented, and how hard it was going to be for everyone to survive, that when they all made it out alive, I felt like something was missing.

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  5. Amanda
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 14:17:44

    Really looking forward to this one, hope it knocks me out of this book ennui I have been feeling lately.

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  6. Janine
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 14:21:06

    @Elaine, @Patricia Eimer & @Amanda: I hope you all enjoy the book.

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  7. Amy
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 15:26:20

    So happy to read this review! I’ve already told DH that I will be busy tonight as I expect my Kindle copy to be available for download sometime between 9 and 10 pm Pacific Time. :-)

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  8. Janine
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 20:48:45

    @Amy: I would love to hear what you and others think of this one.

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  9. CD
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 03:48:26

    Well, to be honest, while I liked the first book of this series because of the worldbuilding, I wasn’t particularly interested in Elena/Raphael as a couple so I skipped their books in the series. I think I just found both of them to be annoying in different ways in the first book and didn’t want a repeat of the same. On the other hand, I really loved both ARCHANGEL’S BLADE and ARCHANGEL’S STORM.

    The slightly different dynamics in this one, however, does look interesting but does this mean that I need to go back and read the previous books with them as the main couple?

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  10. Janine
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 12:31:18

    @CD: That’s hard for me to answer since I read all the books in order. I wasn’t so keen on books 2 and 3 but some big events happened there, such as Elena learning to navigate the angels’ worlds, and the rising of Raphael’s mother. I think this book does try to fill in the gaps for those who may be new to the series, so I would say try it and see how it reads to you.

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  11. Amy
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 02:30:51

    Janine:

    If I were a better writer I would have written almost the same review that you posted. I generally enjoy the sex scenes in Ms. Singh’s books, but I think she could have trimmed quite a bit on that front, added more to the story, and still gotten her point across — that the two continues to have a loving, sex-filled relationship.

    Where I disagree with you (slighly) is here:

    One thing that did bother me a bit was that though some of what happened was brutal, none of the characters I had an emotional investment in died. I’m not usually one to advocate for characters’ deaths (in fact I generally hate when that happens), but in this case, the death of a minor character we’d come to care about at least a little would have gone a long way toward grounding the storyline in reality.

    This aspect bothered me A LOT. It brought back my irritation with Kiss of Snow, when I got to the part of the story that revealed not a single Snow Dancer was killed or even permanently injured after that big showdown with the Pure Psy folks! It was the biggest and first major battle between the Psy and the Changelings; the earlier books all alluded to its occurrence and how deadly it would get, and not a single Changeling even suffered long lasting injuries? It was incredible. And I’m not even a fan of seeing/reading known characters die in stories/movies. But Ms. Singh led me down a path where I found myself expecting to hurt. And I didn’t hurt.

    After finishing Archangel’s Legion, I found myself feeling frustrated again about Ms. Singh’s failure to follow through on the promise of devastation that should have happened after the huge battle. Yes, angels and humans died, but not a single one who died was even a minor/secondary character who was *known* (to us) as having had a relationship with Elena. The writing up until the end led me to believe that each side would suffer devastating consequences. But the story ended with everyone we know safe and sound — none of the injured humans appear to have permanent injuries and all of the injured angels and vampires will completely heal at some point. So by the end of the book, I didn’t really feel the pain that I should have felt at that point; I didn’t feel it because I didn’t believe that Elena experienced as much pain as she should have experienced after that battle. There was too much “telling” and not enough “showing” about the devastating impact the main characters would experience during the Cascade.

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  12. Janine
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 09:09:40

    @Amy: Glad you enjoyed the review. It sounds like we are on the same page about the sex scenes. I was saying to a couple of friends that my issue with them boils down to to this: with the exception of one, most of the sex scenes didn’t have much at stake in them.

    Obviously I also agree that someone we’d come to care about should have died in the battle. You’re right, in that sense there is a similarity to the battle in Kiss of Snow, and it bothered me there as well. It sounds like it marred the reading experience even more for you than it did me.

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  13. Lynnd
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 10:39:54

    @Amy: I was not quite as frustrated with the outcome of the battle in this book as I was with the outcome of the battle in Kiss of Snow (I don’t buy that this was an epic battle in a brutal war when not one of the changelings dies as a result and why is it that we see “good” psy and humans being killed “on screen” but none of the “good” changelings seems to suffer any real and lasting effects of the war). At least in Archangel’s Legion there WERE a number of angel/vampire/hunter deaths both before and after the battle and we see a number of angels we know who are seriously injured and are painfully recovering from those injuries both before and after the battle. Having said that, I would have preferred that we have an identifiable character, who is known to the reader (probably a minor one at this point in the “war”) be killed. The book would have been much more interesting for me if a couple of the sex scenes, particularly towards the end of the book, would have been replaced by scenes showing the funeral of an identifiable character(s) as opposed to anymous angel coffins being taken to the refuge and a brief paragraph or two about anonymous hunters/vampires’ funerals.

    Aside from that I enjoyed the book and the action and am looking forward the next installment especially after the developments at the end.

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  14. Janine
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 10:53:06

    @Lynnd: Interesting point about the lack of damage in the battle in Kiss of Snow, but while it did bug me, I think I wasn’t as bothered by that as you for a couple of reasons.

    (A) The proportions were of the Psy/Changeling war were less epic — that wasn’t a once-in-millennia Cascade and a battle between immortals, and (B) there was at least an explanation for the absence of changeling deaths which was that Sienna was able (though the mating bond, I think) to access their identities instantaneously and direct her power away from them and toward the Psy they were battling.

    In Archangel’s Legion there wasn’t really anything similar — I suppose the colors on the angels’ wings identified them but it seemed to me that would have just made it clearer to the enemy who they should target. I agree that a death or two on Raphael and Elena’s side was needed, though I too think it should have been a side character we’d come to love and not a potential hero or heroine.

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  15. Lynnd
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 12:42:05

    @Janine: I see your point about Kiss of Snow, but IIRC, the changelings were fighting and in terrible danger of being overwhelmed when Sienna finally came down and saved the day. The fact that there were no deaths at all on the changeling side just seemed to take away from the emotional impact of the battle. It’s one of my pet peeves in the psy/changeling series. We keep being told about the danger Dark River and Snow Dancer are in, but we are never really shown that it is so because they keep coming out of everything virtually unscathed while the psy and the humans seem to suffer all of the losses. I think that the Guild Hunter series has been better at showing the danger to Raphael & Co. which is why I didn’t find it frustrating that the losses from the battle seemed to get fairly short shrift at the end – for me it was more of a missed opportunity which would have elevated the book from a B+ to an A in my rating scheme.

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  16. Janine
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 19:48:07

    @Lynnd: You make some good points. I feel that the Psy/Changeling series is lighter than the Guild Hunter series in general. The Psy/Changeling books are firmly in the PNR genre whereas the Guild Hunter books are PNR with one foot in Urban Fantasy. The characters (including, on occasion, the heroes) in the Guild Hunter series can be colder and sometimes even verge on cruel. Psy/Changeling has a more warm and fuzzy vibe, fated mates, and more focus on family/community. They are different beasts so I bring a different set of expectations to each one. I expect more violence and even death in the Guild Hunter series for that reason.

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  17. Maritza
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 23:17:43

    @janine, I can’t think of a single “minor” character I’d like to see sacrificed but I do see your point.
    I also agree on the sex scenes. I have to admit, I DID skip them- with one exception. :)

    The part I found the most confusing about the story I can’t discuss as it would give the book away. I’m also of the opinion that this book can stand alone- but that’s probably because I am bias.

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  18. Janine
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 11:31:30

    @Maritza:

    I can’t think of a single “minor” character I’d like to see sacrificed

    I can’t either, but that’s what makes it a sacrifice, and what makes a war feel real.

    I can guess what part you found confusing — it was a touch confusing for me too, but also wonderful.

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  19. Teresa
    Jan 18, 2014 @ 15:13:30

    I’m WAY late on this review, but I’d like to throw in my words too, even if no one sees them.

    I was very excited for the release of this book. I love Elena and Raphael as a couple. I even planned my wedding to happen two days before this book was released so my wedding wouldn’t interfere with my reading. Although, I agree that the constant “I need my independence./I don’t want you to get hurt.” bit got a little annoying, but Nalini has never failed to surprise, so I wasn’t worried.

    I’m a writer myself, and I believe that provoking emotion in a reader makes your book a success, especially if that emotion is sadness. Killing off a minor character definitely would’ve achieved that. I, too, was a little disappointed that this war the entire book was leading up to didn’t go off with more of a bang.

    I’m really hoping that the next book she writes is a book about Illium, my favorite character. Just saying, if Illium dies, we riot.

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