Okay, where should I start? I guess with this— Angelopolis is one of the worst books I’ve ever read in my entire life (but not the worst; that honor goes to Zong!). It’s fairly bad, and it’s one of those things that makes you wonder what the author was thinking when writing it. And I tried to convey how awful this book was, but I just couldn’t do it because it doesn’t make sense to someone who is not familiar with the series. So, in order to make my review of the next book make sense, I have to explain what the first book in the series, Angelology, is about.
Now I considered doing a spork of the book, but I realized there was no way I had the time to do it, so you guys will have to live with a review. And a sporking might not have worked anyhow. I wanted to like Angelology. I really did. And truth be told, I don’t think it’s that bad; it’s less bad than it is not good.
Allow me to explain. I’ll give you a quick rundown of the plot then tell you how the setting and themes make the book fall flat.
It’s New York in the late 90’s, and we meet our protagonist, Evangeline (get it, because it has ‘angel’ in it?), a special snowflake who never really fit in with the people around her because of her mysterious past. But what’s this? In a surprising turn of events, she’s a nun in Saint Rose’s Convent in Milton1, but like all spunky young heroines, she sometimes disagrees with authority and surprises nuns and visitors alike by being young and approachable, disdaining fancy church decorations, and wearing more modern versions of a habit. She then opens a letter a dude, called Verlaine, sent to St. Rose. Wanting access to the convent’s library, he is looking for a connection between a former abbess and the Rockefeller family.
Verlaine, of course, turns out to be working for a mysterious man named Percival Grigori and isn’t really sure what he’s getting into. Because Percival Grigori turns out to be GASP A NEPHILIM2, a part of an influential family has been secretly ruling the world along with other nephilim for the past few thousand years. Percival is succumbing to a sickness that has been weakening him and hopes that, with the information found in the convent, he can use it to find Saint Gabriel’s harp and restore his health, strengthening the nephilim and reasserting control over the world or something.
Of course Verlaine fucks up, Percival sends a hit squad to kill him. Verlaine sort-of teams up with Evangeline’s long lost grandmother Gabriella3, who happens to be an angelologist working to fight against the nephilim (and also used to be Percival’s lover)4. Evangeline leaves the convent after its attacked by the nephilim’s minions, winged thugs called the Anakim, rescued by Verlaine and Gabriella. They all regroup with some other angelologists, find the harp, but OHES NOES it can only be destroyed by someone of angelic heritage. Evangeline and her grandmother get captured, but Evangeline discovers her inner angelic-ness—being the granddaughter of Percival Grigori—destroys the harp, and kills Percival after he kills her grandmother. Verlaine thinks Evangeline must now be evil because she’s nephilim and runs off to become an angelologist.
Also, the middle section of the book is consumed by this long flashback of Sister Celestine5, a nun who used to be Gabriella’s friend/angelology coworker and helped find the prison of the Watchers (the angels who fathered the nephilim) and the Harp of Gabriel. This flashback is also considerably more interesting than pretty much anything that happens in the “present” part of the novel.
The subject of nephilim is something that has always interested me, so it’s not surprising that I was quick to pick this book up from the campus bookstore. Trussoni actually does an okay job with many of the basic features of the creatures; they’re almost all incredibly tall (so they would have been considered giants in Biblical times), have wings, and tend to resemble Renaissance art of angels, which makes some sense, given that it’s implied they’re the inspiration for a lot of art on angels.
With that being said, though, there are a couple things I have issues with. The first is their beauty—they are constantly talked up as being more beautiful than any human being, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s problematic when all the pureblood nephilim have pale skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. These are apparently angelic traits. I’ve had issues with this before: why would they all look the same? If angels are a species that procreates like humans do, wouldn’t there be a variation in physical appearance with them, too? Wouldn’t they also have different appearances?
The second thing I had an issue with was their history. In Angelology, we’re told that nephilim secretly rule the world, but in the past they did it more directly. The royal houses of Europe, for instance, are all related to/descended from the nephilim, which doesn’t work for several reasons. If they’re all nephilim, shouldn’t they all have blond hair, blue eyes, and be really tall? We know that not every medieval ruler fit that description. We also know that dynasties were sometimes established on the spot by conquerors who weren’t from ruling families—William the Conqueror took over England, for instance, and he wasn’t king before then. And nephilim also have extended lifespans—Percival Grigori remembers Victorian England, and he was an adult then. Wouldn’t the history books have records of kings who lived for remarkably long times? Just maybe?
Also, isn’t ‘nephilim’ a plural word? Wouldn’t the singular of ‘nephilim’ be ‘nephil’ or something similar? [seraph=>seraphim, cherub=>cherubim]
But more than the nephilim, the angelologists are the biggest problem with the world building. You see the angelologists don’t just study angels. Their goal is to kill all nephilim—not make peace with them, not remove them from power, or imprison them with the Watchers—nothing but the complete annihilation of an entire race. For a society that decided to distance itself from the Roman Catholic Church, because of the Crusades and the Inquisition6, it’s pretty big on genocide. Evangeline has a flashback, due to stumbling upon a facility, in which a young nephilim is held and tortured in a dungeon, and never once does someone stop and say, “Hang on, we’re kind of being dicks about this whole business.”
Do basic rights not extend to non-humans?
Weirder than that, I’m wondering why none of the angelologists go public with their information. Yes, the nephilim are in places of power, but to paraphrase Artemis Fowl II: monkeys pose a bigger threat. There are more of them. We have guns and weapons and numbers while, right now, nephilim have an outdated aristocracy and good looks.
“But it’s not like there’s any evidence, is there?” the astute reader might ask. Well, that’s where you’re wrong, because the angelologists have evidence. They have preserved biological tissue and organ samples taken from dissections of nephilim7 as well as family trees and genealogies that are apparently completely accurate dating back to Noah. Yes, that Noah. Sister Celestine tells Evangeline that no one believes in angels because they have no faith—but this isn’t a faith versus science issue! You have the hard evidence! The only reason people don’t believe isn’t because they don’t have faith, it’s because you haven’t shown them the evidence yet!
Angels…don’t actually appear that much, which is fine, I guess. This is the first book in the series, and they mostly act as the background. But Gabriel is mentioned a lot as is Lucifer; you’d almost think that Trussoni was not so subtly leading up to something…
Angels are all apparently blonde with blue eyes, though (grrr), and seem to fit the stereotypical descriptions of angels in art: basically dudes with wings. That’s…frustrating, but it can still be done interestingly. For example, Trussoni’s angels are actually very vulnerable in their wings, because they have so many blood vessels running through them that hurting the wings risks the angel bleeding to death.
[Although angels can apparently unfold their wings without tearing their clothes, they’re both physical and spiritual beings, which shouldn’t work if major blood vessels run through the wings, but… yeah…]
But I’m not sure what role the archangels are supposed to have. They are mentioned as opposing the nephilim and, yet, apparently let them rule the world. In this universe, the Book of Enoch actually happened, meaning the archangels should have killed all the nephilim, but the ones on Earth are descended from them so…yeah, you missed a spot.
Also! Fun fact! The strings on Gabriel’s harp are made from his hair!
What makes all of this really strange is that, for a book about angels where the main character is a nun, there’s not that much talk of God or Jesus. God’s opinion about nephilim isn’t discussed—why He let them live, or why He let any of this happen—which is kind-of what all of you should be thinking. Given you have evidence that angels exist, what God’s doing should be kind of a key question throughout all of this?
One character in Sister Celestine’s flashback makes the suggestion that Jesus is not the Son of God but rather the son of Gabriel and Mary. This is offensive and stupid, but given that it’s a theory a character threw out there and didn’t state as fact within the world of the book, I didn’t think much of it. We’ll talk about that more when we get to the next book.
Like I said above, religion doesn’t seem to inform the characters’ actions as much as provide things for Trussoni to draw upon. When the convent is under attack, one of the nuns decides that all the nephilim should be destroyed, and no one talks about forgiveness or mercy—all things that Christianity teaches. Something that people who have dedicated their lives to their faith should know.
Most annoyingly of all, there comes a point in which Verlaine asks Gabriella how Evangeline “gave up everything worth living for” (354) in becoming a nun. Gabriella points out that what’s worth living for is up for debate, but… really? I get that Evangeline’s reason for joining a convent isn’t precisely the best (it basically boils down to because her father said so), but what makes it all so problematic is that when Evangeline leaves the convent, it’s written like we’re supposed to unanimously see this as a good decision, because now she and Verlaine can pursue a relationship. This all goes to shit by the end of the novel (and the next one) anyway because she goes into hiding. As someone who has heavily considered monastic life, this just seems… insensitive.
Angelology is a bad book. However, it’s not an awful book. It’s one of those books you could easily enjoy if you don’t look too closely at it, sort of like a Michael Bay movie. It’s probably more enjoyable if you’re into thrillers and conspiracy stories. That all being said, it’s miles ahead of the sequel, Angelopolis, a monstrosity of a book is trauma-inducing as it is stupid. I’ll see you guys there.
1 Get it? Milton? BECAUSE ANGELS DAMNIT!
2 But you probably already knew that if you know anything about the name. ‘Grigori’ means ‘Watchers.’ As in the group of angels that fathered the nephilim.
3 GET IT THE NAME HAS GABRIEL IN IT
4 …you see where this is going? No? Okay.
5 LIKE CELESTIAL ANGELS AND HEAVEN D’ARVIT!
6 Not that the book has any grasp of those other than popular history, which is to say… none.
7 Presumably after torturing them to death.