Original Sin is a hot mess, and I’m not quite sure where to start.
Allison Brennan may not have known where to start, either. The early chapters jump around in time to a head-spinning degree. There are so many flashbacks to years ago, and references to events of weeks ago, that Original Sin gives the impression of beginning in the wrong place. If the monastery murders and fire are so important, why not put them in the novel? Well, it turns out they occurred in a previously published short story. The story is called “Deliver Us from Evil” and appears in an anthology called What You Can’t See. Not having read the story, I spent a lot of time feeling like I’d missed something. The priests’ naming conventions don’t help either. The reader does eventually learn where the names come from — after spending a whole chapter wondering why half the cast is surnamed Zaccardi.
When the plot settles firmly into the present timeline, it focuses on a witch coven that has released the demonic avatars of the Seven Deadly Sins, and on the four people who aim to stop them: Anthony, a demonologist; Skye, the sheriff; Raphael (or “Rafe”), a disaffected seminarian; and Moira, the estranged daughter of the witch-queen Fiona. The main threads of the plot are:
(a) The Seven Deadlies influencing people to do bad things.
(b) The same two people being kidnapped and rescued over and over, to the point that it’s easy to lose track of whether they’re in safety or danger at any given moment. Wait, the witches have Lily again?
(c) Fiona’s attempts to kill Moira. Judging by what Fiona does when she gets Moira in her clutches, her dastardly plan seems to be death-by-monologue.
Original Sin contains several passages that are real head-scratchers, such as:
By the age of twenty-one, the “calling” of all St. Michael’s children was clear. Whether they were to be priests, exorcists, empaths, demon hunters, demonologists, scholars, linguists, or one of the many other specialties was discerned no later than twenty-one. Some, like Anthony, had been discerned at an early age. Others, like Raphael, were more elusive. He was in his thirties and still unsettled.
So… by the age of twenty-one, they all know what their calling is. Except when they don’t. From the next-to-last sentence, it doesn’t even sound like Rafe is an unprecedented exception, so why the “all”? Or:
Serena threw something small, a crystal smaller than a Ping-Pong ball, on the ground, while saying, “In the name of your master Baal, in the name of your master Baltach, I command thee Prziel to steal Andra Moira’s soul!”
The small ball of glass shattered on the sidewalk.
Either Serena spoke that long incantation before she threw the ball, in which case I don’t know why Moira didn’t punch her in the nose in the meantime, or else she managed to get all of that out while the ball was falling, which isn’t quite the way I remember physics working.
Then there’s the religion. In Brennan’s universe, all magic is bad. It always summons demons, even when you use it with good intentions, and it’s addictive like a drug. But the Catholic rites are safe to use. I don’t want to get into a debate about the real-world theology, but within the context of the novel, the Catholic rites seem to work just like magic, except without the downside. Every other type of magic is bad. Witchcraft is demonic, voodoo is the same thing as witchcraft, the Wiccans are unknowingly invoking evil, and all the Protestants we meet are either secretly witches or else being controlled by the secret witches. Original Sin may be off-putting to readers who aren’t Christian, and maybe even to readers who are Christian but not specifically Catholic.
Add in lots of head-hopping, too much talky info-dumping, and a scantily developed romance (Why are Rafe and Moira suddenly in love? They’ve barely spoken), and the fact that Original Sin is a long book and feels like it. I don’t think I’ll be continuing with the Seven Deadly Sins series.