Overall Rating: Highly Recommended (How I Rate Books)
Personal Rating: Great prose, very enjoyable worldbuilding
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, YA, Flintlock Fantasy
Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:
I’m a fan of Garth Nix’s work. After reading the first three Abhorsen books, I remembered that this book just debuted. Without so much as reading the book jacket description of ‘Angel Mage’ I impulse bought the audiobook of it and read it then and there. It was so good that in just two days I read the entire thing. It was very good. Not perfect, but very good.
If I were to describe this book, I would call it a variation of the Three Musketeers. This is a tale of gallantry in a world similar to early flintlock era Europe. There are kings and queens, musketeers, Inquisition-like institutions and the like.
This is a fantasy book, and the magic is divine. There are tens of thousands of angels which mankind can call upon for miracles. For example, one of the characters can call the light in a dark place while another can heal the wounded. This magic comes at a cost: each time you summon an angel, it ages you. A minor miracle will age you a matter of minutes or days, while the largest miracles will turn a teenager into a septuagenarian in a matter of hours.
I like the setting. It was not grim dark- the characters are all morally upstanding, the magic system is holy, and the villain is a variation of the zealous Crusader archetype. There are very few tricksters, rogues and warlock type characters in this book. Quite frankly, I thought this was refreshing. I enjoyed having a setting that was so uncorrupted. To be sure there is a large amount of conflict: the villainous Liliath wants to resurrect her dead lover so she can be with him again. The catch is that the dead lover is an archangel, and resurrecting him will unleash an unholy plague upon the planet. So even while her motives are good (getting back together with the man she loves) the implications of her desires are negative.
The characters in this book are good to great. Garth Nix has a way of rapidly introducing a character so that within a page or so of their introduction you get a textured and nuanced view of who that character is, and make them seem lovable. These are mildly tropey/cliché characters. However given the context of this being a book deliberately based upon the Three Musketeers, them being slightly cliché is appropriate. Agnez is a proud warrior woman who has a chip on her shoulder. Henri is a nerdy mathematician who has aspirations greater than his ability. Simeon is the gentle giant doctor. And Dorotea is the inexplicably talented iconographer (iconography is the practice of creating angelic icons used in the summoning of angels). None of them are super deep characters, beyond maybe Agnez. I would like to see them further explored in future books, if there are future books.
The villainess Liliath is my favorite character in this book, and one of my favorite villains writ-large. She unleashed a plague to be with her lover a hundred years ago, and has now returned from the dead to try to rectify her mistake and revive her lover the Archangel. She’s a character who is so proud and so powerful that she loses sight of the fact that the world does not revolve around her. And, quite frankly, given how powerful she is it makes sense that she thinks that the world revolves around her. She is not very nuanced character, but she is so driven and self-assured that her charisma leaks off the page. You can see why people follow her, she’s confident and manipulative and always has her eyes on the prize.
The pacing was spotty. The beginning was slightly slow, and the end was slightly quick. Additionally there was no dénouement at the end. After the climax where the villain was defeated, we probably had 10 pages of text and then the book just ended. I wanted more than that.
The plot was okay. As mentioned, Liliath wants to revive her dead lover and to do so she needs to collect the scattered pieces of his angelic essence. The trouble is that his angelic essence is presently residing in the four heroes. So the plot of the book revolves around Lilith staging events so she can kidnap them.
The plot was fine. It could’ve been better. The ending of this book reminded me slightly of the ending of ‘Promise of Blood’ by Brian McClellan, where for the first two thirds of the book the novel is about political intrigue and backstabbing while the rest is about fending off a divine being from annihilating the planet. I felt that in this case the ending sort of felt tacked on. The plot of ‘Angel Mage’ could easily have been split into two books, one book about political intrigue while the next book being about fending off the divine being.
And finally the prose. It was really good. The writing style was lush and mature, erring on the side of being beautiful for beauty’s sake as opposed to being crystal clear and easy to read. While it didn’t have the best prose of any book I’ve ever read, it was nonetheless very enjoyable and worthy of being read if you want something a little bit fancy.
Net total, this is a very enjoyable tale and I can highly recommend it. While it isn’t perfect- as mentioned the pacing and plot was a bit underbaked- the setting and authorial voice more than made up for. The author did a great job of fulfilling upon the concept of magical Three Musketeers. While technically YA, any adult can easily read this and find enjoyment. Give it a spin if it sounds interesting.