Who wants more angelologist fail? No? Too bad! This is chapter fifteen!
So back at…
Hermitage Bridge, Winter Canal, St. Petersburg
Yeah, there, the angelologists Bruno, Vera and Verlaine are wandering around pondering things. Well Vera is giving Bruno the tour of the city or something, while Verlaine is pondering morality.
He’d interrogated many in much the same fashion as Angela had. But now something had shifted inside him. Now that he had seen Evangeline up close, touched her wings and taken in the chill of her body, it was impossible for Verlaine to think that the Nephilim were simply the enemy, nothing more than horrible parasites that had attached themselves to humanity, devils marked for extermination. He felt both strangely repulsed by the aims and methods of the society and desperate for them to help him find Evangeline.
Basically, he thinks they might not all be bad because he wants to sleep with one.
Okay, I’m being slightly unfair; let’s be real. In terms of character motivation, it’s not a bad one. Verlaine, by virtue of his love for Evangeline (assuming we buy it’s love, but just roll with it for a sec), starts to question if maybe the angelologists are actually completely full of their own self-righteousness. Maybe the extreme methods they’ve drilled into their own members is too much, maybe, just maybe, they’re wrong, and not all Nephilim (not just Evangeline) are evil.
A few of you have been asking me if we’re really supposed to be rooting for the angelologists, and that paragraph is the best bit of information you’ll find indicating that maybe you shouldn’t. But I’m not sure if they’re supposed to be seen as bad. Because other than this, other than Verlaine’s doubts, no one seems to think there’s anything wrong with the way angelologists do their business. Hell, we don’t even see the Nephilim act as if it’s especially cruel or unusual. By the end of the book, all of Verlaine’s doubts are seemingly brushed away, and it’s no longer an issue.
When you read Mortal Instruments, the Shadowhunters act like colossal racist douchenozzles, and several characters call them out on it. Granted, Clare, as far as I know, has yet to provide a reason why they shouldn’t be eliminated as an institution, but the lampshading’s there. The other characters in that universe know that it’s unfair and wrong and remark on it.
Here? We don’t even get that. Verlaine doesn’t actually tell anyone about his concerns, and probably with good reason because the angelologists are fanatics. There’s no one else who questions their methods as too extreme and challenges their authority. And because the only possible third point of view, Evangeline, is side-lined for most of this book, it’s not like we really get an outside opinion of them other than from their mortal enemies, the Nephilim, the main ones we see also being awful and hopelessly stupid. So the whole ‘evil-vs.-evil’ angle doesn’t work either; if that’s how it was supposed to be written, it failed on that count.
So I guess it’s possible that Trussoni wants us to see the angelologists as the vain, bureaucratic, self-righteous and genocidal organization they’re written as, but if she is she’s being remarkably quiet on the subject. If they were really meant to be an immoral and villainous group, I would think there’d be more textual evidence of characters saying so. And my edition of the book has an interview with the author in the back, and she doesn’t say anything on the subject. So I’m left with two conclusions: either they are meant to be viewed as heroes, however harsh they may be, or they’re villains that Trussoni did a downright awful job of highlighting within the text itself.
That’s my thoughts on it. Maybe after reading this book again, I’ll come to another conclusion.
Vera and Bruno are discussing the possibility of the Angelopolis. Vera points out that there’s no record of any such structure or even a notion that one was built. But Verlaine points out that Percival Grigori in the video talked about it as if it were an in-progress project back in the Eighties. Bruno expresses doubt that a city like that is possible, which makes me wonder if his role in this book is just to express doubt at things. Granted, this time it’s a fairly reasonable doubt; how would the Nephilim build a city without alerting anyone in the society for almost thirty years? It sounds a bit iffy.
Verlaine points out that in the video, it’s mentioned that Godwin had a sample of Evangeline’s blood, and he works for the Nephilim, so maybe whatever it was the Nephilim wanted back then was what they want now, and they’ve kidnapped Evangeline to do it. Which is an interesting conclusion, but one question: why did they wait thirty years to get to it? This plan could have been set in motion at any time in those years, but apparently they’re going after it now? Why not do it before Evangeline was on the run?
Vera points out that no one in the society knows where Evangeline is, until Bruno corrects her.
“Evangeline was abducted by an Emim angel last evening in Paris. Verlaine had the honor of speaking with her beforehand. The Cherub with Chariot Egg was in her possession—that is how it came to us.”
That’s right! Aside from Bruno and Verlaine, there’s apparently no one who knows what’s going on. They didn’t send a text saying why they were coming, or what was going on, and at no point in the past few hours did they actually explain to Vera where the hell they got this priceless artifact that’s leading them on the plot.
They decide that they need to find out more, and maybe someone who was at that interview could provide some information that happened after the camera stopped rolling. Verlaine points out that all of them are dead: Evangeline’s parents, Percival Grigori, and Vladimir Ivanova (who was there but I didn’t mention because he’s a non-person really). But Vera is like, “That’s not technically true,” and calls up a taxi.
Would it kill these people to act normal for once? I know it’s supposed to be a dramatic reveal to Verlaine that Vladimir’s wife is still alive and in town1, but there’s no reason that Vera would actually avoid saying so. It’s contrived and frustrating. What’s weirder is that Bruno actually knows the person she’s talking about, so if Vera didn’t mention her by name, he would. I’d give it a pass in much more interesting stories, but not here.
And then I was thinking: in chapter eight Vera was talking about how Saint Petersburg is swarming with Nephilim. The angelologists don’t seem to be walking too carefully in this scene; maybe this close to the angelologist base, it’s not an issue. Maybe Nephilim don’t come near this place and—
A cluster of Mara angels stood under the stone archway, the granite façade reflecting the illumination of their sallow skin.
AVE MARIA THIS HAS MORE INCONSISTENCIES THAN THE HIGHLANDER FRANCHISE
Seriously, none of them are worried about that? Not the angelologists, not the Mara angels? No one? Okay then.
But WAIT, there’s MOAR:
If it had been a normal morning, and they had been in Paris, Bruno would have insisted that they take the whole lot of them in.
They’re not doing anything. They’re just trying to get out of a cold wind; and just for that, that horrible crime of being alive and being in their line of sight, an angelologist on an ordinary day would bring them in to be interrogated, tortured, killed, then dissected and have the parts passed around as collectors’ items. Because that’s the kind of society we’re talking about. Their crime is not some act they committed; to the angelologists, those creatures are in the wrong because they exist. I would say that they would be happy to see them all dead, but I think that would deprive them of something to kill.
And just now is Verlaine starting to think that maybe they’re in the wrong.
So they all hop in a taxi and then
Verlaine leaned against the door and watched the car, waiting for Vera to meet his eye. She smiled slightly and brushed her hand over his. Her gesture was ambiguous, and he was certain she meant it to be that way.
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know squat about human courtship. Every now and then I think I get a grasp of it, and then it escapes me. So I have to study this passage for a while before I can feel comfortable commenting on it. But what it seems like is that this is supposed to be set up for Vera and Verlaine as a couple. Which doesn’t work because they’ve had no time together. Yeah, they slept together a year ago, but that’s pretty much it: they met, they drank, they had sex, and they decided not to talk about it since. So for Trussoni to try to throw at us the possibility that there’s going to be some sort of relationship between them that’s meaningful, emotional connection…yeah I don’t buy it.
Or maybe it’s not a serious relationship! Maybe it’s supposed to be a flirtation leading to a casual relationship. But given that there’s not that much of the two of them alone, that within this book it doesn’t really go anywhere… this is completely pointless. And I don’t care.
They get to Nadia Ivanova’s house, and she welcomes them in.
I have friends in the Russian branch of the society who identified your presence at the research center and telephoned me.
…so this old woman, who is retired, can apparently be notified of when the protagonists are in town. But they didn’t bother to, I don’t know, tell Vera why the hell they were there in the first place? Or how they got that damned egg?
But lest you think this old woman might actually be a sweet and kind soul, Trussoni is quick to put those silly ideas to rest! And by “put to rest” I mean “beating to death with a sledgehammer!”
A cabinet of butterflies stood against a wall with hundreds of colorful specimens pinned to boards inside, a copper plaque naming the collection as belonging to Grand Duke Dmitri Romanov. When Verlaine drew closer to examine them, the rows of powdery wings cast a sinister sensation over him, a kind of illusion of perspective. Suddenly he realized that the specimens were actually feathers from the wings of angels.
This woman has a collection of feathers from angel wings in her house. Mind you, she wasn’t the one who made the collection; but she kept it. This is like if your ancestors were slave-owners who kept bones of their slaves as paperweights, and you held on to them with pride. Or rather, if your dad’s boss had that paperweight and he passed it to you, and you put it on display for visitors. This isn’t cool or fascinating; it’s disgusting is what it is. Verlaine is appropriately kind of weirded out, but only because he’s never preserved samples like this. He’s killed plenty of the same kinds of angels.
But get this: the Russian imperial family? Were Nephilim. Meaning all of this was collected by a member of their own species. Verlaine lampshades it, and really wants to ask “What the hell, woman?” but Bruno signals for him to back down because injustices against sapient beings can wait while we deal with the plot. I’m telling you guys, somewhere deep in here is a great story about lower caste Nephilim fighting against an oppressive upper class, but Trussoni keeps burying it in stupid.
After eating, Nadia asks if they know how her husband was buried and if she could get his remains. Yup; eleven years after he died, they didn’t even let his widow know that he was cremated, that his ashes were in New York, or make any effort to get them to her.
There’s some nonsense paragraphs before they talk about the egg, and for whatever reason the McGuffin prompts Nadia to pull out a plot-relevant book of pressed flowers and potions and stuff like that. As in, clearly an ancient tome of alchemy and lore that’s going to be important later. And in it there’s a paragraph that Nadia points to:
And we explained to Noah all the medicines of their diseases, together with their seductions, how he might heal them with herbs of the earth. And Noah wrote down all things in a book as we instructed him concerning every kind of medicine. Thus the evil spirits were precluded from harming the sons of Noah.
Want to know what that’s about? What the hell that paragraph means? Well so do the characters because the angelologists all look at each other trying to figure out what the hell that means. They’re talking about the egg, and then Nadia just whips this out on them. What the hell is that about?
Now if anyone in this book acted like a normal person, Nadia would explain why she pulled this out and pointed them to this notation, or at least hint at its importance and nudge them in the right direction. But because Trussoni’s writing is absurd and makes no sense, instead Nadia gives us her life story.
“I am the child of average people,” she said, narrowing her eyes, as if challenging them to contradict her.
Um, no you’re not. The entire life story you’re about to produce is about how your parents worked in the Tsar’s household before the Russian Revolution, and how your family smuggled out artifacts so they wouldn’t be grabbed by the Communist party. Look, I get you’re not royalty or an heiress or something, but your parents worked in the household of a royal family. Your mother was a tutor to their daughters. That’s not ‘average people’ by any stretch of the imagination.
Now if you’ve been paying close attention, you’re about as confused as I am. Because Nadia expresses a lot of admiration for the imperial family, and they were Nephilim. She later mentions that the tsar’s family entrusted her mother with a lot of their personal/secret treasures’ locations. How did Nadia become an angelologist, then? How did she marry one? Wouldn’t the angelologists immediately peg her as a possible traitor, given her family’s ties? I would, and I’m nowhere near as extreme or fanatical as they are.
I have lost everything to the Nephilim. I hate them with the pure, well-considered hatred of a woman who has lost all that she loves.”
SHOW DON’T TELL! I’m sick and tired of characters telling the audience their motivations and the like when it can be easily displayed. Nadia could talk about the Nephilim in an aggressive way, or have a collection of angel-killing books. But nope, she has to say it because Lord forbid anyone acts naturally in this novel!
Also: why? They haven’t taken everything from you. They took your husband, but your daughter’s still alive. You’re still alive. You still have a bunch of junk you collected. You seem pretty well off, actually. Your parents lost their jobs and their whole lives during the revolution, but that was siding with the Nephilim imperial family, meaning that wasn’t their fault. If anything, you should hate the angelologists for keeping your husband’s remains from you for eleven years.
Nadia Ivanova, your character make no sense. Your family was supported by one side of the secret war, so you went to/married a man working on the other side because… I don’t know! Plot, I guess!
The chapter ends with Nadia saying that she will help the angelologists follow the Plot with the Fabergé Egg because Bruno tells her Evangeline was the one who gave it to them.
1 Yeah, Vladimir Ivanova (an angelologist whose only defining features are that he died in the last book and had a daughter to pass a McGuffin to Evangeline) and his wife were in that video. I didn’t mention it because I forgot they’re important. By the end of the book, you’ll see why.