THE ANGEL APOCALYPSE FOR THE TWILIGHT GENERATION
YET ANOTHER DYSTOPIAN YOUNG ADULT PHENOMENON SOON TO BE RECEIVING THE HOLLYWOOD TREATMENT
(Penryn And The End Of Days, Book 1)
Genre: Paranormal, Young Adult
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
Date: 23rd May 2013 (First Published 2011)
Once upon a time, publishing houses would publish books that told a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In recent times, however, it has become the case that an increasing number of books are being needlessly split into multiple instalments, to tell stories that could and should be told in a single volume. A cynical person might conclude that the driving force behind this trend is obviously to squeeze more money out of readers’ pockets.
The Young Adult market, in particular, is a major offender in this regard, so it should come as no surprise that by the end of Angelfall’s final chapter it is all too apparent that, not even, half the story has been told. So expect several sequels to be published.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start right at the beginning. Angelfall began life as a self-published tale, available online, which rapidly built up a dedicated following of (presumably young female) readers. If I were to give the book a tag-line, such as: “angels for the Twilight generation”, that should provide a clue as to the popularity of the story, and why Hodder & Stoughton eventually came to acquire and publish it.
Even in its traditionally published form, the self-published online origin of Susan Ee’s dystopian tale is still rather evident. Each chapter is incredibly brief, often being no more than five pages in length, and the story reads very much like a fan fiction piece.
As with most Young Adult titles the narrative is written in the first person, from the point-of-view of a teenage female protagonist. The notable point of differentiation being the author’s decision to write in the present tense, which I found to be rather jarring; there’s just something very unnatural about being inside the head of a character while she provides a running commentary of what she’s doing, as she’s doing it.
With vampires, seemingly, being viewed as passé by many of the girls and young women who comprise the Young Adult audience, author, Ee, has decided that the time has come for angels to be given the YA treatment; or should that be Twilight-ified? Whatever the case, Ee’s angels aren’t exactly the familiar emissaries of God from the Abrahamic religions. I mean, have you ever heard of agnostic angels uncertain about the existence of the god whose will they serve?
This departure from traditional depictions of the angels is made abundantly clear from the very outset. The angels of Angelfall are unequivocally the antagonists of the story, which begins six weeks into the “angel apocalypse”, when, for reasons unknown, the angels have descended from the heavens, launching a full scale invasion of Earth to wage war against humanity. It’s against this backdrop that Ee introduces her teenage protagonist, Penryn Young, as she leads her disabled younger sister and mentally ill mother through the ruins of San Francisco.
The story begins in earnest when Penryn, while navigating deserted streets with her family in tow, witnesses something unexpected; brutal infighting among the angels. Penryn observes with interest as a lone angel valiantly fights off a group of angels who eventually subdue him, before savagely hacking off his wings. Penryn unwisely decides to intervene on behalf of the mutilated angel before he is killed; presumably because he just happens to be so hot that she couldn’t help herself. Unfortunately for Penryn, the consequence of saving the angel, Raffe, is that the angel who was leading the attack snatches her little sister off the street and flies away.
This event sets up the rest of the story which sees Penryn co-opting Raffe into helping her find and rescue her sibling, in exchange for helping him find a way to have his wings reattached.
It would be very easy for me to make fun of Angelfall; both in terms of its narrative and characterisation. But in the interest’s of fairness, I will keep in mind that as a thirty-something male I am not part of the book’s intended audience.
So what should Angelfall’s target demographic of young female readers expect from the book? Well, pretty much all the usual tropes that one has come to expect from Young Adult stories with a female lead. Penryn is the archetypal kick-ass heroine; capable beyond her years (more so than any real world Western teenager could ever be), with a courageous single-mindedness to complete her objective. All the while subjecting the reader to the cliché of trying, but failing, not to fall for the bad boy, further subjecting readers to the “will they or won’t they” forbidden romance cliché.
Unsurprisingly, Raffe the angel is the stereotypical, drop dead gorgeous, aloof, yet irresistible bad boy love interest, who throughout the book feigns annoyance at the presence of the heroine, while secretly falling for her, in spite of himself.
Fans of Young Adult literature are sure to lap up what Angelfall has to offer, and will no doubt turn a blind eye to its shortcomings, assuming, of course, that they even notice them. For more discerning readers, Angelfall, is bound to be an exercise in frustration. There are numerous unanswered questions and unexplained occurrences; presumably the result of the story being unnecessarily split into multiple instalments. Anyone wondering why the angels are waging war against humanity, or why they are abducting and experimenting on young children, well I couldn’t tell you as it is never explained. I can only assume that readers are required to read the rest of the series in order to get those answers.
At the risk of being labelled a sexist, I will conclude this review by saying that Angelfall is your run-of-the-mill dystopian YA novel, catering strictly to the sensibilities of teenage girls, and adult women who wish they were still teenage girls. This of course doesn’t make it a bad book; just one that will not live long in the memory.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.