REVIEW: Archangel’s Sun by Nalini Singh
Dear Nalini Singh,
In Archangel’s War, the last book in your Guild Hunter series, Illium’s father, the archangel Aegaeon, awoke from Sleeping. His return caused a seismic shift in Illium’s mother, Sharine, otherwise known as the Hummingbird. After centuries spent in emotional pain and in and out of a fog, with little left to hold on to, Sharine was seized by anger at Aegeaon and it snapped her back to reality. Sharine, considered angelkind’s greatest artist, even took over the running of Lumia, a repository of angelic art.
As Archangel’s Sun (book thirteen in the Guild Hunter series) begins, Raphael, New York’s archangel, relays the ruling Cadre’s request that Sharine assist Titus, Archangel of Africa. Months after the catastrophic war between archangels, the world is still recovering and Titus is now responsible not only for his own territory but also for what were evil archangel Charisemnon’s lands. Titus is blunt enough that some of his subordinates have quit and the hope is that Sharine can smooth out his rough edges.
Titus’s territory is infested with the dead Lijuan’s zombies, the reborn. The late, unlamented Charisemnon enhanced them and they collaborate, lay ambushes, and afflict others. Titus and his people are locked in a seemingly never-ending battle with them and have no time to cater to a fragile artist. But the Hummingbird is considered a treasure to all angelkind. Rejecting her would be a great faux pas.
Sharine decides to fly to Titus’s citadel herself instead of taking a plane. It’s only a two-day trip and she wants to fly low to the ground and get a feel for the situation. She dresses in simple, practical clothes, ties her hair back in a ponytail, packs only a couple of outfits in a backpack. She also brings the cell phone Illium gave her though she barely knows how to operate it.
On her way to the citadel Sharine lands in a deserted village and finds signs of a reborn attack. In a pile of half-burned bodies, she spots an elongated, unnatural hand and records it with her phone.
Sharine is annoyed to be given a luxury-filled suite, a studio for her art, and a closet full of frilly dresses when she arrives at Titus’s stronghold. Titus has made the (reasonable) assumption that she is a delicate flower. His attempts at consideration come across (also understandably) as patronizing.
Titus can tell that Sharine is displeased and though it’s in his nature to come out with blunt opinions, he bites his tongue. She is, after all, the great artist and an international treasure. This only irritates Sharine more.
Sharine surveys the battlefield on her own initiative the next day and when she spots reborn, fire shoots out of her hand. Searching through millennia of memories, she realizes that she has had this ability for a long time though she has not exercised it in many centuries. Titus is surprised but happy to find a use for her.
When Sharine shows Titus the video she filmed, he notices that the misshapen hand made a slight movement. She doesn’t have coordinates and he needs her help to locate that village so they fly there together. They frustrate each other, impress each other, and become more aware of one another.
They are much different, though. Titus is a mere 3500 years old, but Sharine is ancient despite her youthful appearance. Titus is widely known to have rough edges and Sharine to be a shrinking violet. He is responsible for Africa and she for Lumia; neither can abdicate these responsibilities. Sharine is just recovering from the horrifying thing Aegaeon did to her. Titus, usually perfectly satisfied with brief affairs, tries to view Sharine as a great but fragile artist, not as a desirable woman. If he hurts a hair on her head, the Cadre will come after him.
At the village, Titus and Sharine discover evidence that the reborn infection may have crossed to angels. If so, it could be catastrophic. Angels must be viewed as invulnerable; their unquestioned power keeps lawless vampires in check.
Has the devastating disease indeed infected angels? Can Titus clear his territory of the reborn? Will Sharine heal from Aegaeon’s betrayal? And can Titus and Sharine find a way to be together?
The best thing about Archangel’s Sun is Sharine. I have never seen heroine like her before in this or in any other paranormal series—an ancient woman with a grown son. I loved the way Sharine’s age grants her wisdom and gives her age-related vulnerabilities: a fuzzy memory, disconnection from the modern, unexercised muscles, unfamiliarity with slang and technology. I loved the way that, speaking to centuries-old beings, she addresses them as “child.” And that none of this prevents her from being capable, insightful and focused.
Titus is fun—a good battle strategist, big-hearted, straightforward and confident. Though anything but humble, he isn’t (unlike some angels) vain or haughty. The first word that comes to mind is cuddly. Titus is an alpha in the leadership sense but also a man who embraces others. He values anyone who contributes skills, whether angel, vampire or human. There have been other diverse protagonists in the series but I believe Titus is the first to be described as having “skin of the darkest brown.” That was great, too.
Titus’s cuddliness made him a less believable archangel, though. It’s been drummed over and again that archangels must sometimes be terrifying and take ruthless and scary actions to control their territories and maintain their positions. I couldn’t imagine Titus having ever struck terror into anyone’s heart. We see strangers fear him due to bad experiences with Charisemnon but that’s a different thing.
Sharine and Titus are a cute couple. The older woman / younger man trope is getting a bit more common, but is still pretty unusual and fresh. Sharine’s age made me love her, and Titus’s admiration of her made me like him a lot. There’s a fun, charming dynamic where Titus exudes confidence and Sharine tries to puncture his ego before it inflates too much (not that it ever does).
Here are a couple of examples where Sharine teases Titus.
Titus crouched down to examine one particular set of prints. “I’ll have to look at this more fully in the daylight.”
“Wait.” Bringing out the phone device, she pressed the symbol Illium had shown her would bring light. It shot a glow, bright and sharp, onto the tracks. Pleased with herself, she said, “You really should get one of these. It’s quite clever—I can see why my boy loves it so.”
In this next one, Titus’s sisters are referenced.
“Truly, they’re wonderful.” A smile so deep he could almost touch it. “They do adore you, you know. Such praise I’ve heard of your exploits, Titus. If I didn’t know you, I’d think you a god among men.”
He scowled. “I am a god among men.”
The setup is contrived. At that point in the story no one, not even Sharine, is aware she has martial powers to contribute, and her past frailty is well-known and fresh on everyone’s mind. Given her history she could easily have been more hindrance than help so sending her to Titus makes no sense.
Titus and Sharine act inappropriately toward others a couple of times. Titus invites Sharine to sit in on a conference call with the Cadre, but asks her to stay off screen. It’s lovely that Titus is wants to include Sharine but letting a civilian eavesdrop on a Cadre meeting isn’t right. I doubt most of the Cadre would be pleased if they knew.
Another moment of unsuitable behavior comes when Sharine tells Kiama, a young, bereaved warrior angel, how she’d feel were she one of Kiama’s dead parents. First Sharine, a near-stranger to Kiama, asks Kiama to open up to her about a personal tragedy, and then, almost immediately, she lectures. She means well but it’s presumptuous.
I wasn’t happy Sharine felt she had to be even-handed in her treatment of Illium and Aodhan either. I’m sorry, but no. In the event that their rift turns into a hurtful and permanent break, attempting to be there for both of them equally would harm her relationship with Illium. In such an eventuality Illium would need her to be there for him—and she has already hurt him in the past by not being there for him. To be a good mother sometimes means showing loyalty to one’s child, not being there for the person who (however worthy) may soon hurt him beyond repair.
Of course that won’t happen, in these books things always resolve happily. And of course she means well. But Sharine doesn’t know she’s a character in a happy ending series so I would have liked to see her act as if the possibility that Illium and Aodhan’s friendship could go pear shaped exists. That she doesn’t isn’t conducive to viewing her as a thoughtful mother.
I had a tangentially related issue with regard to Sharine’s past. I understand, intellectually, why what Aegaeon had done to her is horrible. But—and maybe it’s because I’m not an immortal—it’s hard for me to view it as genuinely horrifying. Cruel, yes. But so awful as to cause her to live in a fog of pain for centuries, frequently in inaction, distance or silence? Even though she had a son who tried to connect with her? I can’t see it that way.
I’m glad Sharine acknowledges the harm her mental absence has done to Illium but I would have liked to see parallels drawn between the choice personal difficulties drove her parents to make when she was young and her own reaction to a difficult situation when Illium was young.
It’s also hard to reconcile the Sharine of the past with who she is in the present day. More flashbacks could have helped me piece it all together into a full picture of one person who had grown and changed. Instead she read almost like three different people, first the young, vulnerable Sharine, then the confused, fragile Hummingbird, and finally the more resilient Sharine of the present.
Another issue was in the development of the romance. The first third is delightful but in the middle things get more familiar and predictable. By the two-thirds mark it’s clear that there isn’t anything substantial to keep Titus and Sharine apart.
Things speed up too quickly on Titus’s end, too—he realizes he wants Sharine to stay with him only a handful of days after meeting her. He has never, in 3500 years, felt that way about anyone, and has never been in a long-term relationship. That makes his abrupt desire read as almost rash.
Since Titus and Sharine don’t have many differences to hash out in their limited days together, it doesn’t feel like they’ve truly had an opportunity to plumb each other’s depths. Sure, they’ve shared some stories and made inferences, but it doesn’t feel like a full exploration. Relationship conflicts in romances serve not only as a way to keep readers absorbed, but also as a way for each character to get to the bottom of the other person. I missed that here.
The storyline about the possible infection held my interest fairly well for a lot of the book. As one might expect from a book in this series, it was gory and disturbing with a creepy-yet-exciting turn of events late in the book. After that it was pretty clear how things would go in both plots (the infection and the romance) and I stopped feeling driven to read fast. Mid-book there were also one or two moments when Titus dreaded that something horrible would happen to Sharine but then nothing unusual happened—that read like a flimsy way to keep readers in suspense.
Another issue that bugged me is that Titus’s territory is referred to as Africa while some of the other territories are what we in our own world would consider countries (India, China) or in one case, a city (New York). I would have liked to see specific cities in Africa depicted, and shown as modern and bustling. Lagos, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Nairobi, are nowhere to be seen. Cairo is mentioned but only in its historic context. Instead we get references to cities that go unnamed, for example, “Khan’s on the ground in one of the cities worst-hit by reborn in the north.” Villages are shown much more closely. This plays into stereotypes of Africa.
There were some new characters introduced that I enjoyed meeting: Trace, who assists Sharine in running Lumia, Tzadiq, Titus’s second, Ozias, Titus’s spymaster, and others. The author has a gift for depicting a character clearly within a few paragraphs of introducing them and it is utilized here.
I liked the Sharine / Titus pairing. Sharine was a fresh, unconventional heroine and she made the book for me. Titus was appealing and great for her. Their dynamic was fun and sometimes amusing; I can picture them happy together, enjoying each other for centuries to come so despite all my nitpicks I’m giving this one a C+/B-.