Surrender the Dark: A promising series opener

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsL.A. Banks Fallen Angels 1. Surrender the DarkSurrender the Dark by L.A. Banks

The angel Azrael has been sent to earth in a human body, with a very important mission. He must find Celeste Jackson, a woman who is one of the Remnant, the last remaining descendants of angel/human couplings in ages past. The Remnant must be gathered so they can lead the human race when all hell breaks loose in 2012.

When we first meet Celeste, she’s an unlikely leader. Labeled “crazy” all her life because she sees demons, she has fallen into an abusive relationship and heavy drinking. One night she’s sure it’s over — that her boyfriend is finally going to kill her — but instead he is killed by the demon that has been inhabiting him. Celeste escapes the demon but finds herself lost and hopeless, until she meets a drop-dead gorgeous man who claims to be an angel.

The interactions between Azrael and Celeste are, for the most part, terrific. Celeste doesn’t believe the angel story at first, Azrael is baffled by much of what he finds in the human world, and the trust that develops between the two characters is sweet and uplifting. The relationship between Celeste and her beloved Aunt Niecey is also endearing, as is the camaraderie that develops between Azrael and Niecey. L.A. Banks gives each character a distinctive voice and creates several adorable scenes — most notably a grocery shopping trip in which Azrael discovers the sensual joys of earthly food, and the scene where the two go to Niecey’s house and banter affectionately — that will give you the warm fuzzies.

The relationship between Azrael and Celeste progresses at improbable speed, though, as does Celeste’s transformation from mess to dispenser of wisdom. It might have been easier to swallow if Surrender the Dark took place over a period of weeks rather than a day or two.

The larger problem in Surrender the Dark is the lecturing. Several times, the plot comes to a halt so that one character (usually Azrael) can expound about something to another (usually Celeste). I also had this issue when reading Banks’s Minion several years ago. The subject matter is a little different this time; Minion had a lot of religious preaching, while Surrender the Dark has some of that but is largely focused on the benefits of an organic vegan diet. I can’t complain too much, since it does lead to the grocery store scene — but the copious filibustering wears thin (even during that scene, which I otherwise liked).

The latter half of the novel features more action, as the forces of darkness scheme to gain control of Celeste. I’m not sure how much the larger plot of the series is advanced, as Banks could go several different directions from here. I’m curious whether she will continue to follow Celeste and show how she fulfills her destiny, or if she will backtrack and tell the stories of the other Remnant characters first. This series opener is a promising start… especially if Banks dials back the lecturing.

Fallen Angels — (2011) Publisher: The first in a spellbinding new urban fantasy series about fallen angels from New York Times bestselling author L.A. Banks. Celeste Jackson’s life has been a series of tragic occurrences. Haunted, the thirty-three-year-old woman has bounced from therapists to group homes, to drug halfway houses. Plagued by nightmares and hallucinations and misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, she is found by the angel Azrael — her protector. But as Azrael helps her to unlock her powers, and they work to amass an army of those with powers like Celeste’s in order to fight the forces of darkness, Celeste has as much to teach Azrael as he has to teach her. She’s been down the path of temptation and addiction. Now she must help Azrael overcome the one temptation that could make him an eternal prisoner — his addiction to her.

L.A. Banks Fallen Angels 1. Surrender the Dark 2. Conquer the DarkL.A. Banks Fallen Angels 1. Surrender the Dark 2. Conquer the Dark


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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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