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REVIEW: Raziel by Kristina Douglas

Dear Ms. Douglas,

Vampire angels must be a trend now in paranormal romance. Who knew? Much like Jane with that selection, I’m not sure why I picked up this book and read it. Angels don’t do it for me. And yet, I managed to finish it despite my ambivalence. Maybe I have a previously unknown-to-me fondness for vampire angels!

Raziel by Kristina Douglas Allie Watson is a writer of snarky Biblical murder mysteries. Not the most common occupation but not the most unusual either. On her way to a meeting with her editor, she has a close encounter with a bus. So close, in fact, that she ends up a bloody pancake on the street. If she happened to have been helped along by the very attractive man in front of her in the hot dog line, well, that would be the lead-in our plot.

Raziel is a fallen angel. Cursed by God, he must partake of blood and can no longer bear the touch of fire. Raziel and his fellow fallen angels live in a sort of sanctuary, away from their age-old enemies, the Nephilim. Originally, the Nephilim were heavenly warriors sent after the angels when they fell. But the Nephilim also fell and instead of being cursed with a thirst for blood, they ended up with an incessant hunger for flesh. It was after the Nephilim’s fall that God grew fed up with everything and abandoned mankind, leaving Uriel — the last remaining unfallen angel — to administer in his absence. The problem is that Uriel hates the Fallen and constantly schemes to find a way to destroy them forever.

Despite this preference, Uriel has given the Fallen the task of ushering the recently departed to the afterlife. Raziel is Allie’s escort but instead of heaven as previously expected, he finds that he’s taken her to hell. But for some reason unknown even to himself, Raziel literally saves her from the fiery pits and finds himself saddled with a woman he wants nothing to do with. After all, he’s sworn never to take another mate again — they make too convenient a target for Uriel’s attacks — and he finds Allie far too tempting for his own good. The question, though, is why Allie was slated to go to hell in the first place. Surely writing snarky Biblical murder mysteries wouldn’t warrant such a fate. Uriel may be humorless but it’s too minor an infraction, even for him. The answer to that question is a plot that will change the Fallen forever and usher in a new age for them.

It’s interesting to read this book shortly after Caris Roane’s Ascension. There are many similarities in terms of elements: angels with a penchant for blood, a mysterious woman tossed into their midst by fate, and a soulbond. But while Ascension‘s worldbuilding is very haphazard and nonsensical, Raziel takes a more methodical approach. I find I prefer the latter since I come from a fantasy reading background. I like it when worldbuilding holds up to scrutiny, especially in non-fantasy genre books. So I did ultimately appreciate the worldbuilding in Raziel but it took a few chapters for me to readjust and accept that while there were similarities, this was not a 100% transfer of angelic canon. I definitely can see how some readers might find it confusing because it does take a while for things to become clear.

What I found strange about this book is that there’s not a lot of plot when you stop to think about it. Allie is introduced to the world of the Fallen. The other angels want to get rid of her. Raziel and Sarah, the Source (a woman who donates blood to the fallen angels without mates), are the only people who argue in her favor. The barrier to their sanctuary is weakening and the Nephilim have found them. There’s a cursory mention of the Fallen looking for Lucifer, the original fallen angel, in order to free him and have him lead them in the war against Uriel. Except for the initial plot point in which Allie is killed and sent to hell, she actually doesn’t have a lot of impact on the plot until the end.

In fact, I’d argue that neither Allie nor Raziel affected the plot in any major way. A lot of it was instead driven by external factors, in which the couple would then have to react. I think I would have preferred a little more action on their part but I also realize that might be difficult to do when they spend the bulk of the novel in a house located in some other-dimensional sanctuary.

Despite the paranormal trappings, this is a story where the conflict rests between Allie and Raziel. Allie is trying to accept that she is dead and that she cannot return to her previous life. Raziel is struggling to keep his vow of not taking another mate even while he suspects Allie of being Uriel’s spy. But even then, I thought that the emotional conflict between them was not as immediate and intense as I’d expect. The book had an odd detached tone to it, which is doubly strange because the bulk of it is told in first person POV.

Speaking of which, I feel that I must warn readers that the book is told in alternating first person POV between Allie and Raziel, interspersed with third person narratives from a couple other characters. I personally don’t mind these sorts of narrative choices but I know they can be a major turn-off for some readers so I wanted to give a heads up.

There is, of course, the obligatory sequel-bait. I am not sure I actually liked how that subplot unfolded and concluded, even though the resolution tied into Allie’s storyline. It felt a little rammed in, so the characters involved were a bit too superficial for me. Of course, I also dislike the trope that was used, so perhaps that’s just my bias speaking. [spoiler effect="blind"](Why is it always fridging?)[/spoiler] That said, most of the supporting characters were superficial and never really came to life, so maybe that’s not a fair criticism to level at this one particular subplot. Something happens at the end that should have hit me hard as a reader but failed to do so because I was not invested at all in the characters.

I wish I could say I enjoyed this book more. I did finish it and again, that says a lot considering my disinterest towards angels. But while all the pieces were there, it read so methodical to me that I felt like it was going down a list, checking off various points as the book progressed. I wouldn’t mind reading the next book in the series, but it’s not something I’d rush out and get. C

My regards,
Jia

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Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

22 Comments

  1. may
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 14:14:58

    I am only about 1/3 through this… and right away I too was struck at how oddly detached the book feels. Also the alternating 1st person does NOT work for me. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where it did work out well. It’s confusing! Which “I” are we talking about now?! Either pick 1 character and stick with him/her, or use a different narrative please.

    Anyhow – great review! I will get back to this eventually but I think my grade is likely to mirror your “C”.

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  2. JC
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 14:35:47

    I also felt really detached from the narrative. Part of that I think was the setting… almost everything was described in black and white, with mists. The only concrete setting characteristic in the book is the ocean, with the salt. So the setting never felt immediate, which made things rather detached.

    And the narrative just never seemed real enough. I never really felt like the emotional character arc was developed. Too much emphasis on the mate-bond trope. Allie struggled with that a bit, but you could kinda guess that she was eventually going to come around… after all, it’s not like she could escape or leave them, so if you ram the H/H together enough eventually they’ll stick.

    Every once and a while there’d be a moment where I’d say, oh, this is where we’re going to see it get better, and then it would fizzle. Not a bad book, but also just not what I wanted, coming off Archangel’s Consort, which is terribly intimidate, and a hard act to follow. A C is probably fair, though I was frustrated enough that I might even have went with a lower grade.

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    Feb 04, 2011 @ 15:28:42

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  4. Ell
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 16:28:13

    Here’s an interview of Kristina Douglas by Jennifer Crusie, in which Douglas’s True Identity is revealed….

    http://www.arghink.com/2011/01/22/meet-kristina-douglas/

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  5. Jia
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 16:47:51

    @Ell: Did you see the tags I used on this review? ;)

    ReplyReply

  6. Ell
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 21:18:19

    Nope–sorry. Either way, though, I enjoyed the interview.

    ReplyReply

  7. DM
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 22:26:40

    OK, stupid question: when you are such a brand name, why write under a pseudonym?

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  8. Shay
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 23:15:00

    why is anne stuart tagged under this?

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  9. Ammarylis
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 23:51:17

    @DM: I’ve heard that a lot of authors write under pseudonyms when they break away from their “brand” genre. I’m guessing it’s because they want readers to enjoy the book based on it’s content, not on the larger than life author. Like “Oh! XXX is writing historicals now! I’ll be disappointed if it’s not as good as her contemporaries under a different name!”

    @Shay: Kristina Douglas is the pseudonym for Anne Stuart. I wonder if her new heroes will be like the ones from her RS novels. Those guys were psychotic as hells.

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  10. DM
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 01:20:29

    @Ammarylis

    Oh. Gotcha. That makes sense.

    I’m likelier to pick up this book now that I know it’s an Anne Stuart, because the Angel Vamp genre has burned me in the past. But you are right, I’m also going to judge this book against my favorite Anne Stuarts. It’s unfair, but I can’t help it.

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  11. Jia
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 10:02:47

    If I know that an author writes under another name, I try to tag my reviews accordingly since depending on the publisher/author, the connection isn’t always made clear.

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  12. pamelia
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 10:29:26

    I mostly enjoyed this book, but found it had that same detached quality that others have mentioned. I never felt grounded in a scene (lots of mist and confusion all around) and the fact that Allie is dead? I couldn’t quite get my brain wrapped around it. I know it was discussed quite a lot, but there was this kind of feeling I had that because of her non-living state, things couldn’t have the same impact as they otherwise might have. Does that make sense? Still, I finished the book and will likely order the sequel. BTW the only reason I bought this was that someone mentioned Anne Stuart wrote it. If I would have run across it without knowing I doubt I would have pushed the BUY button!

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  13. Isobel Carr
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 12:14:11

    @DM: There are lots of reasons to do this. IMO the #1 reason is that if it bombs, you don’t want those numbers tied to your successful name. And you don’t lose your diehard readers who feel burned because they bought it based on your name without bothering to check anything else about it (and now feel burned because they hate your new subgenre).

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  14. Jane
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 14:56:57

    @DM I don’t know that the publisher’s ploy worked so well on this book. Stuart didn’t make any list (and I think she usually makes bookscan top 100). New branding in a crowded market = no one taking notice.

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  15. Jia
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 15:08:11

    @Ammarylis: I haven’t read any of Anne Stuart’s novels so I have no basis for comparison. I personally did not feel that that Raziel or the sequel-bait were particularly psychotic. But I also think that in the paranormal genre, the threshold of being labelled “psychotic” is much higher because there are trappings to explain that behavior — he’s a werewolf! he’s a vampire! he’s the last of his kind! etc etc. There exists an extra layer of separation by way of being paranormal versus taking place in the so-called real world.

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  16. DS
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 19:04:00

    Anne Stuart has a long history of psychotic heroes. I remember some one commenting on a Regency group that she could understand the heroine in one of Stuart’s older historicals wanting to sleep with the hero but she couldn’t believe she would let him near the children. I can’t remember the particular title but he was by no means the most psycho.

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  17. DM
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 19:05:14

    @Jane:

    I think you are right. I have not heard a peep about this book. It was totally new to me when I saw it here.

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  18. Janine
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 20:34:26

    @Jia:

    I haven't read any of Anne Stuart's novels so I have no basis for comparison.

    You must read Black Ice. By far her best IMO (Robin likes it very much too).

    Yes, Stuart is known for her morally ambiguous (and sometimes downright amoral) heroes. But one of the things I find equally unusual about her books is the exceptional spareness of her prose. I’ve kept reading some pretty frustrating books (see my review of Silver Falls) because I’m mesmerized by the lean way she puts together a sentence.

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  19. Jia
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 20:42:06

    @Janine: I’m tempted to read one of her Anne Stuart books just to compare the writing. What you say about the spareness makes me wonder if that quality is what I’m parsing as “detached” in this novel.

    I am also curious about the moral ambiguity of the heroes. I’ve heard that mentioned about her heroes before but I didn’t feel that Raziel and his counterparts tread that line at all.

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  20. Janine
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 22:27:27

    @Jia: Read Black Ice. I’d be happy to send you my copy. The hero is definitely morally ambiguous and the writing is really lean. The rest of the Ice series was enjoyable but not on the same level. She has heroes who are even more morally ambiguous in some of her older books like Moonrise and Ritual Sins but I don’t think her writing style was as good in those days.

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  21. DM
    Feb 06, 2011 @ 01:01:59

    I second Black Ice as a great intro to Stuart. For historicals I love Rose at Midnight and Prince of Swords. I know there is a lot of love for Lord of Danger as well but I don’t think the hero or heroine are as complex in that book.

    I loved the historical trilogy she just put out as well, although I know it’s not for everyone.

    Her writing is definitely spare–but I don’t think that is the reason that some of her books feel disconnected. Ritual Sins left me cold, ditto Lord of Magic. She’s really hit or miss, and I think it has a lot to do with her characters. Some are more relatable than others.

    I’m halfway through Raziel, and I’m finding the characters difficult to connect to, although not in the way I usually do with Stuart. Often she crafts a hero whose actions are just too unpalatable (and I’ve noticed that no two Stuart fans agree on which ones these are…) or a heroine who is too blinkered to see what’s in front of her.

    The problem with Raziel, though feels more like the problem I’m having with so many paranormals. Cookie cutter characters dumped in by the numbers plots with familiar genre tropes. It’s tough to feel like these are individuals, with unique histories, when they feel so much like the characters in the last ten paranormals I’ve read. And because everything is so familiar, nothing surprises. So sad!

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  22. donna
    Feb 23, 2011 @ 15:20:29

    this book was unbelievable. i could not put it down, i was sorry when i reached the last page, and i cannot wait for the next book in the series….5 stars from me…it’s the first book i have read where i truly wanted to be the woman!

    ReplyReply

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