Archangel: A grand sweeping love story

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Reposting to include Kelly’s new review.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Samaria Archangel Sharon ShinnArchangel by Sharon Shinn

Gabriel is about to become Archangel. He is required to lead the annual singing of the Gloria on the Plains of Sharon in just a few months with his wife, the angelica, at his side. There is just one problem: Gabriel isn’t married. Faced with this dilemma, he goes to the oracle to find out who he is supposed to marry, and is given the name of a woman, Rachel, but he has no idea where to find her. With the months slipping away before his voice raised in song is the only thing that can turn away the wrath of the god Jovah, he crisscrosses the land, and finally locates her — an Edori slave girl who has no intention of marrying an angel and spending her life in a different type of servitude. To make matters worse, the current Archangel, Raphael, seems less likely every day to peaceably hand over his position to Gabriel.

Archangel is an amazing book. Sharon Shinn has created a world with a slight science fiction underpinning — the oracles are using computers to consult the god Jovah — but that is as fantastical as any I have ever read. With an Old Testament flavor, the land of Samaria is populated by several races of people bound together and lead by the angelic hosts who can intercede with Jovah through their amazing singing. Angels sing hymns that can control the weather, bring magical seeds raining from the heavens to treat illness, and serve as a legal system to govern the people. However, the balance the angels have long kept has slipped under the twenty year reign of Raphael, and the leaders of the humans are not looking forward to the stern and strict Gabriel becoming Archangel.

Each of the different cultures has a distinctive flair, and Shinn’s writing is evocative and visual — the Edori Gathering, the blue city of Luminaux, the terrifying Windy Point — all the different locations leap off the page in fully realized detail. The final show down between Gabriel and Raphael was so seamlessly and powerfully written that reading it was like watching a movie unfold in my mind.

The cast of characters in Archangel is also masterfully written. As much as this is a story of the corrupting influences of power, and the battle between faith and doubt, it is also a love story between two sometimes unlikeable characters. For an angel, Gabriel can be a pompous jerk, and Rachel can be stubborn and defensive. However, watching both of these flawed characters try to reconcile duties that have been imposed upon them with their own plans is a gratifying experience. There are moments of pure beauty here, and watching these two characters slowly, painfully, and awkwardly come together is emotionally satisfying.

I usually include a discussion of the shortcomings of a book in the review, but I can’t think of anything that I didn’t like about Archangel. There is a reason that this book won the William Crawford Award and was nomination for the John Campbell award — it really is a stunningly beautiful and emotionally compelling piece of fiction. I highly recommend Archangel for all readers, from older YA and up, especially if you like your fantasy seasoned with a dash of romance. I am heading to the library to pick up the sequel (Jovah’s Angel) to take with me on vacation next week and I won’t even bother bringing a backup book.

~Ruth Arnell

Angel (5 Book Series) Kindle Edition by Sharon Shinn

The ANGEL series


Sharon Shinn’s Archangel fantasy book reviewsRecently, I found myself in a predicament I think all avid readers know well: I was looking around at my precarious stacks of books, thinking, “I have nothing to read!” I felt half-tempted to revisit a particular old favorite, but also kind of didn’t want to read that, because I already knew the plot in my sleep, so I tried to distill down what I wanted from my next read. I wanted, I decided, a unique world to discover, and I wanted a grand sweeping love story. And when my eyes landed on Sharon Shinn’s Archangel, I remembered Ruth’s review and decided it was time to finally give it a try.

Archangel is set in the land of Samaria, in which several cultures of humans live alongside angels. The angels are powerful, winged beings who are able to use music and prayer to intercede with the god, Jovah, for weather control and other desirable outcomes. And every year, the head angel — the Archangel — and his or her human spouse must lead the multitudes in the singing of the Gloria, or else Jovah will destroy Samaria. There are inklings throughout the story that Jovah may not be a god in the traditional sense, and that this may be a science fiction setting rather than a fantasy one, but those hints are really for the reader; to the inhabitants of Samaria, this theology is all they know.

Gabriel is an angel, and this year he is to take on the mantle of Archangel, and to do this, he needs his predestined bride, Rachel. But Rachel isn’t as easy to find as he expects — she was born the daughter of humble farmers, but then her village was destroyed and she was taken in by the nomadic Edori people, and from there kidnapped and sold into slavery. And when he does find her, the last thing she wants is yet another decision made for her. She might be willing to marry Gabriel, but as for whether they’ll ever manage to work as a harmonious team — let alone fall in love — well, that’s the heart of the story.

Rachel and Gabriel are both so stubborn as to be frustrating characters, and they keep their necks stiff long after one might think they’d have reached some form of détente. I understand the backstories that made them this way, but I kept finding myself wanting to yell things like “Gabriel, darn it, if you want your wife to attend your meeting with the dignitaries, you need to actually tell her it’s happening!” and “Rachel, darn it, I know the Edori do things differently from angels, but you sound like the new co-worker who starts every sentence with ‘Well, at my old job…’” I had my doubts that Shinn could actually make me believe in their relationship in the end, but she did, and it really is quite beautiful — as is the writing itself, especially when describing music.

There’s also a political plot alongside the romance; our heroes begin to suspect that Raphael, the current Archangel, may have become corrupt, and that he is none too happy about the idea of ceding his power to Gabriel.

Overall, I don’t think I loved Archangel quite as much as Ruth did, but I did like it, and I did get what I wanted — this is a unique world, and a grand sweeping love story. I’m glad I finally saved it from the TBR.

~Kelly Lasiter

Published in 1996. From national bestselling author Sharon Shinn comes a stunningly beautiful novel of a distant future — where the fate of the world rests on the voice of an angel… Through science, faith, and force of will, the Harmonics carved out for themselves a society that they conceived as perfect. Diverse peoples held together by respect for each other. Angels to guard the mortals and mystics to guard the forbidden knowldge. Jehovah to watch over them all… Generations later, the armed starship Jehovah still looms over the planet of Samaria, programmed to unleash its arsenal if peace is not sustained. But with the coming of an age of corruption, Samaria’s only hope lies in the crowning of a new Archangel. The oracles have chosen Gabriel for this honor, and further decreed that he must first wed a mortal woman named Rachel. It is his destiny and hers. And Gabriel is certain that she will greet the news of her betrothal with enthusiasm, and a devotion to duty equal to his own. Rachel, however, has other ideas… Winner of the William Crawford Award for Achievement in Fantasy. Nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit’s staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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2 comments

  1. I really like the sound of this. Fab review.

  2. Jean in Florida /

    This is going on my TBR list. I’ve read some of her work & really loved it.

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