This chapter is the first and only one in the section marked as “The Fourth Circle: GREED.” And by God, it’s a doozy. Let me know if you find anything in it is remotely related to the subject of Greed as portrayed by Alighieri.
So where the heck are we now?
Burgas, Black Sea Coast, Bulgaria
Uh, yeah sure.
Vera lands at the airport, and she had weird dreams on the way over. What did she dream about?
[shrugs] Heck if I know.
She couldn’t remember what she dreamed but felt a weightlessness at the back of her mind, distant yet vivid.
…then why did you tell us she was dreaming if what she dreamed isn’t revealed? There’s no point to it. Why not just say that she was sleeping dreamlessly?
I get that real life is like that a lot; I have dreams that I don’t remember all the time. But when you’re writing a story, you don’t include nonsense details in flowery language if they don’t move the story along or advance characterization. This instance does neither. It’s not even showing off history or art knowledge or anything, like a lot of the extra padding in this book. It’s just… there.
Vera: I had a dream. I don’t remember what it was, but it was vivid.
She hadn’t been asked for her passport: Her presence in Bulgaria would not be registered. Officially, she had never entered the country.
You’ll forgive me if I don’t actually think the angelologists are anywhere near subtle or organized enough to allow someone to enter a country without the authorities knowing. So while Vera pretends she’s sneakier than HYDRA, I’m going to guess that the European Union totally knows that she’s there and just doesn’t care.
Seriously, how would they not know? Maybe I’m just not an expert at top-secret travel, but Vera basically just hopped in a plane right after we last saw her and flew here; do the angelologists really have the resources to have a pilot and fully-fueled airplane on hand in St. Petersburg that can fly agents to wherever they need on the go? No, I don’t buy it. Later in the chapter Vera is told that she is “the first foreign angelologist in ages to visit” , so it’s not as if they send people here often.
A woman with black hair and deeply tanned skin greeted her from the driver’s seat. She introduced herself as Sveti and told her that Bruno had called hours before about Vera’s arrival and her requirements while in Bulgaria. She said, “If you’re hungry, help yourself.”
Guys, this is one of the worst paragraphs I’ve ever seen in a published, edited work.
Sveti is not some nobody: she has important dialogue throughout this chapter. You wouldn’t think that from this paragraph, in which everything she says is glossed over. Her introduction, her exposition, her rank and role within the larger organization… everything except her offering food to Vera.
And I think that kind of sums up what’s wrong with the way this book is written. Characters aren’t really people; they’re plot devices to serve… I don’t know. It sure as heck isn’t the Plot in this instance, because the next paragraph is a description of the food in the goody basket Vera’s been given.
So the Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green, held an event called the “Evening of Awesome” in Carnegie Hall. And whether or not you’re a fan of them, I recommend checking out clips and stuff. Anyhow, Neil Gaiman comes on stage and he and John Green answer questions, one of which was on writing advice. And they give this advice: tell stories to people. And take note of the parts when the people you’re talking to stop paying attention. Those are the parts you’ll want to cut from writing.
…apparently no one told Trussoni that because this entire chapter is twenty pages of exposition, a good chunk of it about nonsense like what Vera decides to eat from the goody basket, the history of the town and its theological significance, and the background behind the special Rasputin book that Vera’s carrying around. The plot only barely inches forward. I get that as a conspiracy thriller a lot of it is characters explaining what the heck is going on, but this is ridiculous. Exposition is supposed to be tied in with character and plot development. Instead it’s just dumped on the reader, and most of it is stuff that doesn’t add anything to the narrative.
I’m serious; Trussoni tells us about the town, about the vegetable stands they pass, about the local McDonald’s (what is it with you and McDonald’s???), about the algae in the freaking water for God’s sake. Then Sveti goes on bitching about the town’s commercialization and I wrote DOOOOOOO NOT CARE in big letters in my copy of the book.
Trussoni cares so much about exposition, that Sveti actually says, “Well I know you know the guy you’re meeting, Dr. Azov, but how about we go and do a recap?” And Vera says, “No need, I can tell you about his entire career and will proceed to do so to pad out the length of this book.” It’s as clunky as it sounds.
I’m here for a story. Not a tour book.
So apparently Dr. Azov works here because the Black Sea is important to the story of Noah. And I guess I’m going to have to stop here and explain yet another thing that was mentioned in the last book. See, the angelologists are very big on the story of Noah and the Flood because it ties to the story of the Nephilim. According the first book, the Nephilim knew about the Flood and so one of them killed Noah’s son Japheth and replaced him, and since Noah was apparently stupid and didn’t notice his son was replaced by an evil angel for forty days, the Nephilim were able to make it through the Flood.
Now here are a few things that don’t add up: First and foremost is that the angelologists apparently have tangible evidence somewhere that this happened, as they all accept this as fact. So that means that in the world of Angelopolis , there is definitive proof that the Biblical Flood happened literally as it is described in the Book of Genesis. Why is that not out there more? How did they get this information??
Second, wouldn’t this mean all of the Nephilim are related? And a good chunk of humanity is also very distantly related to the Nephilim? How is all these different subspecies of Nephilim if they all come from one specific individual in recorded history? We’re not talking like Nephilim of different ethnicities, we’re talking some who can fry people with their hands, some who can read the future and some who can resurrect themselves from the dead. I’m not a biologist, but… that’s a pretty big set of differences. How does one explain these huge gaps in potential and abilities???
The answers? There are none!
A little over a decade ago, however, academics at Columbia University, William Ryan and Walter Pitman, published a book that changed the nature of investigations about the Flood.
Why yes, yes they did. I know because I did my homework as well, Trussoni. Here’s the thing though; if their actual hypothesis about the real history behind the mythological Flood is true, there’s a gaping hole in this story right here. Because according to Ryan and Pitman’s hypothesis, there was massive flooding around the Black Sea that may have wiped out tons of people… but not enough to cover the entire world. So… why did the Nephilim have to sneak onto Noah’s Ark? Why not just go somewhere else? The assholes can fly. Why would you sneak on a boat when you can just fly somewhere safe. They’re freaking angels; don’t tell me they couldn’t find a way to just go somewhere else.
I normally wouldn’t be this critical, but Trussoni insists on shoving in my face all of her research and to make this story “realistic.” The story comes to a complete halt as Sveti continues to just take a fat infodump on the reader’s face about the Flood and research on the subject in relation to the Black Sea, but honestly, if you’re really interested you can look it up. I swear the Wikipedia article on the subject is more interesting than this.
So Vera is taken to St. Ivan Island to meet Dr. Azov, who has a treasure trove of artifacts taken from the bottom of the Black Sea. Then Sveti dumps this on us.
“Noah lived to be 950 years old,” Sveti said.
What?? So is Genesis a literal book in this universe or not? I don’t know! Because exactly which parts of Scripture I can take literally or figuratively is completely arbitrary to whatever the author feels like pulling out of her armpit! So what Scripture and tradition says on angels is completely wrong… but the majority of the account of Noah’s story is entirely accurate, including the bit about Noah living to almost a thousand years old. I don’t know the rules of this world, Trussoni, because you’re making them up as you go!
Right. So Azov yanks out a wooden tablet with a bunch of scratches on it and insists that it’s a piece of wood that Noah personally wrote on, because it’s five thousand years old and clearly no one else could have written on it.
Look, I get that a lot of stuff can be preserved in the Black Sea because of its composition, as Azov helpfully explains to a doubting audie—I mean Vera. But you’re telling me they’ve been looking into archaeological digs and just happen to find stuff that was written by a Biblical figure, rather than anyone else who might have possibly lived there at that time? This is like me finding an old horseshoe in Boston and proclaiming that it belonged to Paul Revere.
Look, if I believed God had some hand in this, I’d let it pass! The Knights of the Cross have convenient coincidences happen to them all the time in Dresden Files , but that’s because the reader is clued in that God is actually pushing things so that they are able to go where He needs them to be. But there’s barely any mention of God, of miracles, or of divine intervention or destiny. So the reader is just led to believe that by sheer coincidence, the angelologists were able to pick up Noah’s personal diary. And also that they didn’t tell anyone. Not even angelologists outside of this research station. So convenient that, so it can be revealed once it becomes relevant to the Plot.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering what language these tablets are written in, because I sure was. Sveti claims that it is, in fact, Enochian, the language of angels given to Enoch, Noah’s ancestor. Which according to Sveti, is the exact same Enochian that John Dee recorded in 1582.
It was considered by most angelologists to be a revealed language—authentic, but impossible to trace historically. Enochian script seemed, in the sixteenth century, to literally come out of nowhere. Of course, there are those who believe John Dee simply made it all up. Linguists have analyzed the language and concluded that there is nothing particularly remarkable about it. But if these tablets are authentic, they would not only verify Dee’s script as the language used by Enoch’s descendants, they would also support Dee’s claim that the language was not composed but revealed by God.
Oh, sweet Akatosh, where do I begin?
Okay, let’s start with this.
Now that’s out of the way, I’ve already covered John Dee so you can go back to my spork of chapter seventeen. Enochian, as it was “revealed” to Dee, is not an authentic language. I don’t mean that’s a matter of my opinion; I mean that’s the conclusion that all reasonable facts lead us to. Dee made the claim that Hebrew and other Semitic languages were derived from Enochian. That doesn’t change the fact that Hebrew and Arabic sound absolutely nothing like Enochian. In fact, its syntax and verb conjugation are almost exactly like English. You know, the language that John Dee and his assistant Edward Kelly would have spoken? If you’ve ever studied a foreign language in your entire life, you know that many don’t conjugate like English. Arabic and Hebrew sure as shit don’t1. There’s also the strange little coincidence that the word that angels supposedly used for “kingdom” in Dee’s Enochian is “londoh.” But I’m sure the word’s similarity to ‘London,’ the place where Dee would have spent a ton of his time as he worked for Queen Elizabeth I, is a complete coincidence.
In conclusion: is there an angelic language that might have been called Enochian? I don’t know. But it sure as hell wasn’t the piece of crap of a language that John Dee wrote down in the sixteenth century. Look, Christopher Paolini’s Ancient Language is an awful constructed language, to be sure, but at least no one’s trying to pass if off as the language of God. So yeah.
Vera hands the plot-relevant book that Rasputin used to own to Azov, because she thinks it’s also written in Enochian. Azov takes the book and is convinced it proves his life’s work is true or something. He also makes passing reference to Raphael Valko, Evangeline’s step-grandfather. Vera asks if she knew him, and Azov makes a point to say that the guy is still alive. How is he alive if he’s… [does calculations] …old as balls? Well again Vera doesn’t ask yet because that would take away from the reveal later in the book.
Basically, the reference to the Book of Jubilees2 in Rasputin’s book could be pointing to Noah’s records (which the angelologists have) that contain a poison that could wipe out the Nephilim. Apparently some angelologists looked for this fabled “Book of Medicines” but no one takes it much seriously now. Which is kind of weird to me, given that apparently they have proof that some of Biblical Scripture is literally true. You’d think every bit of Old Testament literature, lore and apocryphal text would be required reading for angelologists.
Vera points out that a “Book of Medicines” that tells you how to kill things isn’t much of a medicine book.
“The formula given to Noah was of divine origin,” Sveti said, “The logic involved is not one we would recognize.”
The fuck does that mean?
You could have just answered with: “Well considering it was a book with lots of recipes, maybe most of them were medicines? We don’t know anything for sure, given that the Book of Medicines is just hypothetical at this point. Maybe the Jubilees passage is just referring to illness as evil spirits given that in ancient cultures sickness was thought to be induced by malign spirits.”
Instead Sveti makes a statement that makes no sense and just gets me confused. Does this character believe that God just hands out seemingly nonsensical titles to people’s instruction manuals?
Also, there’s a comment about how Nephilim live for five hundred years and “reproduce without pain.” Yeah, tell me, how does a humanoid life-form with hollow bones lay an egg without any pain? How does that one work, asshats? ‘Cause I’d really like to know.
Whatever. Anyhow, Rasputin’s book is supposedly the lost Book of Medicine, which you’d think the angelologists who had it in their archive would have figured out by now given that you can totally look up Dee’s Enochian online.
How an uneducated, drunken charlatan like Rasputin came to discover Enochian is a mystery I can’t even begin to solve.
“How did he figure it out? He’s just some peasant!” That’s how you sound right now. Like a classist douchenozzle. And if the man was a charlatan, he managed to slip into the good graces of the imperial family. So yeah, I’d say he’s one up on you guys.
But actually, that’s a really good question. Not only did Rasputin learn Enochian, he apparently has recorded information from a book no one’s been able to prove existed for thousands of years. How? There is no wrong answer, because Trussoni doesn’t give us an answer! I’m serious; Rasputin learned the language of angels, copied information from the mythical Book of Medicine, and there’s absolutely no explanation!3
Moving the plot along, Azov takes Vera to his filing system where he apparently has a bunch of the seeds of plants that Noah carried on his Ark, that would have theoretically been used in the recipes for the Book of Medicines. Apparently the angelologists just happened to find them in an underground storage center from Noah’s time. And they just happen to still be good five fudging thousand years later because plants existed back in the time of dinosaurs, I guess?
“In geological numbers, it isn’t such a long time,” Azov said. “It has been a mere seven thousand years since the Black Sea flooded. Any basic history of botany will show that prehistoric plant life flourished hundreds of millions of years before this, and these seeds were remarkably durable. The atmosphere we breathe developed because of the oxygen released by massive groupings of leaves. May species of dinosaurs existed solely by eating plants, and so we must conclude that the majority of the planet was covered in vegetation.
Sorry, there’s more to this blockquote, I just… this book is just starting to make me angry, okay?
The cache of seeds we’ve recovered is surely only a tiny fraction of the actual pre-Deluge flora, most of which died. It is miraculous that these seeds remain, but when you think of the amount of plants that went extinct, you will see that these seeds are the exception. The seeds that remained viable were the strongest seeds, the most resistant to the elements.
I’m not a botanist. If anyone who knows enough on the subject can tell me whether or not this is believable, the plants’ seeds living this long, I’d really like to know. I’m curious. The point is though that I got lost reading Trussoni’s explanation, and I don’t believe a word of it. My fiction-writing professor told me that it doesn’t matter if something’s “realistic” or not in a story—if you haven’t made the audience believe it, it still fails.
So not only have the angelologists found artifacts and personal diaries and the like from Noah’s hand, they’ve also just happened to find seeds from his personal garden? That’s a tad convenient, don’t you think? Seriously, I have no other reaction than:
How many random bullshit coincidences do I have to accept? Like I said, if the author had implied that God was somehow involving Himself in the events, guiding them, I’d roll with it. But as it is, we’re just being told that the secrets of the ancient world that would be outright miraculous to be found in real life are just happy happenstances for the Plot to move along.
Among these random plants is silphium, an extinct aphrodisiac and contraceptive used in the ancient world. Sveti claims that the heart symbol derives from it, which is actually a real life hypothesis, but is far from being a proven fact. So Sveti/Trussoni… shut up. I’m getting real tired of your “research.”
Also, I’m going to insert a random side note here for later reference. Azov claims that the body of Jesus’s cousin, Saint John the Baptist, was actually buried on the island of St. Ivan where they are right now. I looked it up, and apparently there were remains found that scientists think, thanks to carbon dating, could conceivably have been John the Baptist’s given their age. Then again there are about ten different places claiming to have relics of the saint, so… I don’t know if it proves anything. I mean, there’s at least three Spears of Destiny floating around. In any case, here Azov acts like it’s a done deal, and that they know for a fact it’s the saint’s body. Maybe in Trussoni’s world, it is. She can do that, I guess. Now this isn’t plot relevant, but I’m including it here so I can refer to it later. So keep it in the back of your mind for later. We’ll get back to it.
They go through their stuff to see if they could actually make this Nephilim poison, and Azov says they have all the plants. But Sveti says their last ingredient is Valkine, the metal that angels use to build stuff, named after the angelologist who discovered it, Raphael Valko, Evangeline’s step-grandfather.
Question: what does the Book of Medicines call it? It wasn’t called Valkine, because Valko hadn’t discovered it in Rasputin’s time, much less Noah’s. So the name in the book is probably its angelic name, or closer to its real name. And also, how would the angelologists, even the ones who read Enochian, understand what it meant? If I give you a recipe, and it throws the word queso at you, and you have absolutely no knowledge of Spanish, nor any way of looking up the word in a dictionary or the Internet, and no one you can talk to speaks Spanish, how would you know what it was? There’s no context clues other than that it’s something you need for the recipe.
Whatever. Azov declares that they’ve got to go talk to Raphael Valko if they want some Valkine, because clearly he’s got loads of the stuff somewhere, right? And so the Plot continues to flit from one location to another.
And that’s a rap.
Now I know that you’re not going to believe when I say this, but hear me out: this book has not yet begun to suck.
Here’s the book so far:
The heroes were given the Fabergé Egg. It lead them to the Book of Medicine. Vera goes to Bulgaria to find out its significance. So far it sounds like a mediocre plot, doesn’t it? It’s kind of hard to understand what the heckamajigger it has to do with the Angelopolis, which must be important because it’s the book’s title. But so far, the Plot itself isn’t too bad, right? Take out the awful descriptions, characterization and world-building, and you might be able to say it’s a solid mystery/conspiracy/secret history plot, right?
One quick thing though:
[whispering softly] None of this has fuck all to do with the resolution of the novel.
But we’ll get more into that later. For now, let me assure you that the Crazy Train has left the station, and I encourage you to hop on board before we really get going. Because it is going to be one hell of a ride.
1 I know this, because I looked up Arabic conjugations. It’s not hard to do these days, though perhaps it would have been more difficult on Dee’s day.
2 In case you forgot the quote, here it is: “And Noah wrote down all things in a book we instructed him concerning every kind of medicine. Thus the evil spirits were precluded from harming the sons of Noah.”
3 My personal hypothesis? He was told by the Ogdru Jahad.