Angelology: A Novel
by Danielle Trussoni
Cover Artist: Photo: Jeff Bark
Review by Benjamin Wald
Viking Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780670021475
Date: 09 March 2010 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Angelology has a fairly traditional premise. For centuries, a group of supernatural creatures have hidden alongside humanity, manipulating human affairs and satisfying their own selfish desires. They are opposed by a secret society of humans who strive to end the tyranny of these evil creatures. This novel gives the premise a bit of a twist, by replacing the expected vampires or werewolves with the Nephilim, half human and half angel, created by disobedient angels mating with humanity in biblical times before the flood. Opposing them are the Angelologist, a cumbersomely named group of scholars whose studies, such as angelic physiology and ethereal musicology, are a strange mix of the scientific and the theological.
While the central premise seems to hold some promise, everything else about this novel is a mess. The plot follows three main characters; a young nun named Evangeline, her grandmother Gabrielle, and an art history student named Verlaine. Verlaine is undertaking research on behalf of a client into connections between Abigail Rockefeller and the first abbess of the abbey where Evangeline lives. His employer, we soon learn, is one of the Nephelim who menace humanity, Percieval Grigori, and he suffers from a newly emerging angelic disease that is rotting his wings. He hopes to find clues in the abbey that will lead him to an angelic artifact that may hold the key to curing him, and restoring the Nephilim bloodline to power and purity after centuries of interbreeding with humans.
The first half of the novel is excruciatingly boring. This is mostly due to the fact that the author reveals certain key facts to the reader early on, such as that Verlaine's employer is an evil half-angel, while withholding this information from the characters. The first half of the novel is largely taken up, therefore, with the characters laboriously discovering information the reader already knows. What's worse, the process of discovering this information is not an active one of investigation, which might have been interesting, but instead proceeds through stumbling on scattered hints in books and dull conversations with more knowledgeable characters, interspersed with stretches of nothing much happening at all. The pacing picks us slightly in the second half, but never really redeems the excruciatingly slow start.
This might have been alright if the characterization or writing style made up for the slow pace of the plot, but quite the opposite is true. The characters are almost entirely uninteresting. Evangeline in particular seems to always behave exactly as the plot requires her to, leaving us with no very clear sense of her personality and largely uninvolved in what happens to her. The writing style is workmanlike at best, with an annoying habit of narrating pedestrian activities in excruciating detail. Take this sentence for example: "Walking to the galley kitchen, he turned on his espresso machine, packed fine-ground beans in the porta-filter, and--after steaming some milk--made himself a cappuccino in an antique Fiestaware mug, one of the few he hadn't broken." Why on earth does the reader need to know in such detail how to make a cappuccino?
Even the world building is rather thin and inconsistent. We are told that the Nephelim have infiltrated most of the wealthy and powerful families of Europe long ago, while the angelologists are affiliated with the church. Saint Thomas Aquinas, for instance, was a noted angelologist. One might expect that this would have had a profound effect on the relationship between church and state in the medieval world, but this is never so much as touched upon. Even at the more specific level the details are inconsistent. At one point, the magical artifact being sought is described as indestructible except by angelic power, but just a few pages later one of the characters describes it as fragile and worries that it will be damaged as it is removed from its hiding place. The original rebel angels are discovered at one point to be radioactive, but how dangerously radioactive beings managed to live in wedded bliss with human women for years is never mentioned. These kinds of inconsistencies in filling out the fictional world are common throughout the novel.
By the time I had read 50 pages, I was ready to put the novel aside. Nothing in the remaining 400 pages changed my mind in the slightest, and at the very end I was rewarded by an ending that was rushed, anticlimactic, and relied upon several key characters acting like total idiots at crucial moments. This novel, in my opinion, is not worth your time.