I so want to be done with this book. I have detailed at length exactly how bad it is, how thoughtless the worldbuilding, how convoluted the backstory, how shallow the characters and how random the pacing. But for all of you to really understand just how infuriatingly and ludicrously atrocious this novel is, we have to reach the end. The very last line of the novel. And to reach that line, to rip it from the page and show it to you, my dear readers, like the beating heart of a sacrificial victim to the Aztec deity Huitzilopochtli, is what keeps me going.
So Verlaine, Bruno and Yana have made it to the Panopticon. Yana doesn’t want to go in, though; the text says it’s been about twenty years or so since she’s been in, because she hates being there. It says the place “had the power to fill her with dread.” When the underground genocidal death camp is so horrible that even the fanatical genocidal footsoldier doesn’t want to step in there, then maybe there’s a problem.
While her family had always been angelologists, tracing their first efforts to the time of Catherine the Great, she had an uncle who had been imprisoned in the panopticon as a spy in the 1950s. Stripped of his rights, he was thrown into an isolated holding cell. He worked both in the reactor and at cleaning up the nuclear waste that leaked from the facility. The lakes and forests were saturated with radioactivity, although the citizens of nearby villages were never informed. Yana’s uncle had wasted away with cancer and been buried at the site.
One would think that seeing her uncle stripped of basic human rights and deliberately exposed to radiation so he could horribly die of cancer and dumped in a nameless grave would clue Yana and her family in to the fact that they work for a cultish organization run by genocidal zealots.
Seriously, the more I hear about angelololologists, the more I hate them. Sometimes I suspect it’s intentional on Trussoni’s part, but then the Nephilim are portrayed as stupid and evil as it gets and I’m just confused! Am I supposed to hate everyone??? Someone help me out here!
Also, are we capitalizing “panopticon” or not? Because Trussoni can’t seem to decide. I’ll capitalize it to make it simple.
But there’s something else about this passage that makes me confused. Can you think what it is? No? I’ll give you a hint: why the bloody fudge did they not do this to Godwin??
Godwin wasn’t just a spy; he was performing experiments for the Grigoris. He still is. And he kept angel porn in his office. He was about as dirty as one could get in the secret society business. And yet he’s running the Panopticon, with the flimsier-by-the-chapter excuse of “well we thought if we kept him there we could watch him at all times.”
Yana’s uncle was a much smaller threat (as far as we can tell), and given a much greater punishment, a punishment that would have been perfectly suitable to Godwin. By bringing this up, the reader just has to wonder why it wasn’t done to Godwin, who walks to work every morning thinking about how much of an asshole he is, and doesn’t have influential living relatives still in the society like Yana’s uncle did.
Can we go maybe one paragraph without something stupid happening?
Making her way into a corrugated steel outbuilding—a rusted-out shack that served as an entrance to the east tunnel—she pulled out her wallet and fingered her Russian Angelological Society identity card.
They have ID cards.
I honest-to-God have a headache right now.
I wrote a short story where members of the secret society had ID cards, and when I shared it with my writing group in Creative Writing workshop, they immediately pointed out how big of a problem this was. What if someone steals the wallet? What if they get a glimpse of the card when the wallet’s open? Having an ID card for your secret society is an incredibly liability, because then you have a record of an ancient international secret walking around in people’s back pockets.
And it gets dumber.
Because Yana’s bringing Verlaine and Bruno, and their cards aren’t Russian, they’re French (because they’re based in Paris). So the security guards wouldn’t recognize them!
At least she could identify herself, which was more than she could say for the others, whose French identity cards would mean nothing to these security goons. Getting them in would be difficult.
So not only do they have ID cards, but they’re not standardized in any way across the international branches of the society. This is like if you’re a Frenchman with Interpol and then you go to Germany, and they don’t do shit for you because your Interpol ID is in French. Get your stuff together, guys! Yana has authority to enter the Panopticon not because of rank or achievements or anything, but because the guards won’t admit angel hunters who aren’t Russian.
This is so stupid.
Yana plans to get in by telling the guard that she’s there to meet Dmitri Melachev. The guard’s first response? “You’re a bit old for Dmitri, honey.”
You know usually when sleezeballs say this in fiction, it’s to imply a villain’s taste for underage girls. Just saying. Although really, even if it’s not underage women, and he’s seeing a bunch of young women in his place of work to sleep with… well, shouldn’t he get fired? This is a top security prison for a secret society! He should be alert at all times! One of the guards is described as drunk too, which is a major security breach. Seriously, no wonder Godwin can run the place; it’s so hilariously insecure that I could probably run the place.
But Yana tells the guards her full name, and to tell Dmitri she’s waiting to see him, and this is apparently a big enough deal to get things moving. Because you see, turns out Yana actually has backstory with Dmitri, and Trussoni decides to reveal it near the very end of the novel because she can, I guess. And also because no one edited this literary abomination.
Before she’d been assigned to angel hunting in Siberia, she and Dimitri had been childhood sweethearts in Moscow.
Wait, what? Siberia? When we met Yana, she was with the angel hunters in St. Petersburg. My grasp of Russian geography isn’t great, but I’m pretty sure that’s not Siberia. Unless she got transferred somewhere in between then and now, in which case, why is this needlessly confusing?
Sorry, carry on.
They had been deeply in love in the way that only teenagers can be—madly, blindly—and had been engaged until Yana broke things off. Yana had helped Dmitri get his first job as a bodyguard to one of the high-level angelologists. His career took off from there. Now he was the chief of security in the panopticon, a man with clout over everyone and everything barring their path
[singing] Guess who doesn’t give a crap? This guy! This guy! Guess who doesn’t give a crap? Dooh-da-dooh-da-day!
Do you remember the end of Eragon where the villain Durza is given a sympathetic backstory at the last minute? A ton of people criticized it, which is fine. But this is worse. This is like if right before the final battle a guard captain from Gilead was given a clichéd backstory about how he used to know Brom just to keep the Plot running.
Dmitri has never been mentioned before this point. Yana has been a minor character who existed only to serve as a guide to Russian angelology and to have the Deus Ex Machina of “Gibborish Charm” to wipe out evil mooks. Well it seems that she’s got yet another Deus Ex Machina out of her ass—that she just happens to have once been engaged to the head of security at the Panopticon! Isn’t that convenient?
I get that this is meant to have a sequel, so maybe this plot thread will be more important later on. But in the context of this book, this passage is incredibly lazy writing. If Trussoni wanted this to happen, Yana should have shown up earlier (maybe in the Hermitage Museum working as a field agent for Vera), and had some sort of past engagement foreshadowed. But as the book reads, it seems like Trussoni just sat down and said, “Shit I can’t think of a way for the heroes to get into the Panopticon! Wait, if I make it so that the chief of security is the ex-fiancé of this new character, they can get in! Let’s do that!”
So Dmitri comes out, Yana requests they talk in his office, and they see the concentration cam—I mean prison. These excerpts stuck out to me:
a dungeon of the classic medieval variety. The floors were concrete and stained with blood.
Every living being could be opened, studied, and classified. There was a pretension toward research and scientific progress, of course, but in the end they were there to exploit the prisoners for their own benefit. Every creature, Yana knew from her own experience, belonged to its captor.
And I know I’ve already said it, but once again the book beats this into our faces: this is a death camp. The creatures kept here in inhumane conditions are to be cut open, experimented on and then disposed of. And yet there is no challenger here; at no point does our hero Verlaine stand up and say, “No! This must end!” He questions the system because of Evangeline, but he doesn’t challenge it. And so we’re left to assume that we’re not supposed to find the angelologists evil as a group. In any case, the angelologists may or may not be the good guys, but they’re not the villains of this story. Think about that.
Man this book sucks.
Yana assures Verlaine that Evangeline might be here in one of the cells, and passes her the jacket of the drunk security guard they passed. Why they need to do this, I don’t know; Verlaine is an angel hunter, the same rank as Yana, so there shouldn’t be any reason he doesn’t have clearance other than him not being Russian. Anyway that’s how Chapter 34 ends.
Chapter 35 begins in Dmitri’s office, and he assures them it’s safe to talk in there. Verlaine instantly jumps to “Where is Godwin holding Evangeline?” and Bruno thinks it’s a bit reckless. And what happens next? Well Bruno talks about how reckless and badass Verlaine is, because if there’s one think Trussoni can do in this book, it’s telling instead of showing!
He always wanted to go in shooting, no matter what risk was involved. It was an admirable quality when they were on familiar terrain, with plenty of backup and weapons at their disposal. Being a million miles underneath a Siberian nuclear wasteland, in a security office loaded with plasma screens displaying hundreds of Russian angelologists and thousands of creatures in their cell pods—that was another story.
How… wait, why would the security screens affect this situation? It’s not as if the screens pose a threat? I dunno, it just sounds as if Bruno is worried that Verlaine being stupid in the security room would somehow make everything that the security feeds are showing come down upon them? It’s weird.
Also this is the one time Bruno has actually described Verlaine somewhat accurately. Usually he talks about how much of a badass Verlaine is, when all we’ve seen him do is get his can kicked. Here, he says Verlaine is reckless and charges in all the time, which is precisely how Verlaine acts. That being said, we’ve never seen him call for backup, and we’ve only seen him use a weapon a couple of times. And it isn’t admirable at all, Verlaine’s just an idiot. Maybe he’d be less of a reckless idiot if Bruno didn’t keep insisting that he was the Bruce Lee of angel hunters, so he’d get realistic expectations of his skills.
Dmitri, unsurprisingly, says this on Godwin:
“I have been monitoring Merlin Godwin for fifteen years,” Dmitri said, waving a hand dismissively at the plasma screens. “Believe me, it would be a pleasure to nail him. But I can tell you that Godwin and his crew would never be stupid enough to let me see anything too important.” Dmitri leaned against his desk and crossed his arms across his chest. “My surveillance only goes so far.”
The chief of freaking security in the Panopticon basically shrugged and said, “Yeah, well there’s only so much I can do.”
Here’s the thing: they have nailed him! The angelologists have had evidence that Godwin’s dirty since 1984! And now they have him somewhere they know he’s doing something wrong, but haven’t stopped him because they don’t have evidence that he’s doing it right now? And the reason is because he avoids security cameras? What the blood hell are any of these assholes doing? Dmitri should get his shit together, write an e-mail to his superiors, and the problem would be solved. But nope! They just have to sit around and wait for the Plot to move them along.
This book received favorable reviews by professional critics. Professionals.
Dmitri explains that he knows Godwin works for the Grigoris to “remove weak Nephilim from the general population” by testing them and throwing them out with the trash if they didn’t yield results. Realizing that the enemy is just as Nazi-ish as they are, Yana says it “Sounds like the bastard has been doing us a favor” but Dmitri answers with “He might have been helpful if he’d just continued on his genocidal path,” which means that he admits that their goal is genocide. Well at least he’s honest with himself.
Anyhow, Dmitri explains that Godwin’s goal is to repopulate the world with a stronger, more powerful angelic race, and for that needs “a superior angel specimen”. In this case, Evangeline. Now how he knows all of Godwin’s goals, or why knowing this the angelologists haven’t gone down to his quarters and garroted him in his sleep? Never explained. Dmitri also tells our heroes (and the audience) that despite their being strict security checks for every prisoner that comes in, “Godwin can do what he wants,” and “has ways of getting around the regulations. He could have Evangeline here and I wouldn’t have a clue.”
So the known traitor has had ways of being hidden from surveillance for decades… and no one running this organization has thought to put a stop to it. Yeah, makes sense to me!
It’s not even like when HYDRA had infiltrated SHIELD. In that case, there were so many sleeper agents that you didn’t know who you could trust, even in the upper ranks. Here though? It’s just that the angelologists are that stupid. It’s not that there’s corruption in the upper ranks, it’s that they’re inept.
So where is Godwin holding Evangeline? Yana says the nuclear plant, where security is highest. Dmitri says it’s dumb, but Godwin’s crazy enough to do it. Also, Godwin wired the whole facility to explode and no one’s done anything about it.
Dmitri stepped to a screen and, releasing a catch, pushed it up, revealing a vast interior garage stacked with long white bricks of plastic explosives, blue and red wires twisting around them. “This belonged to Godwin.”
“PVV5A,” Yana said, astonished.
“I intercepted a shipment in January,” Dmirtir said.
“You’ve got enough of this stuff to bring down the whole prison,” Bruno said.
“Considering the fact that we’re below a nuclear reactor, that’s what we don’t want to happen,” Dmitri said, taking one of the white bricks and placing it on his desk. “Godwin, on the other hand, has planted this stuff in every nook and cranny of the prison. After I intercepted the PVV5a, I knew he was up to something, and so I used dogs to find the rest of the explosives. What you see here is a collection of what was found in the panopticon itself. I can’t guarantee he hasn’t rigged his private research center or the nuclear reactor, and I can’t promise he hasn’t planted other kinds of devices.”
Yeah, Dmitri says they haven’t been able to nail Godwin because they can’t catch him on camera, but apparently they can’t nail him for shipping tons of explosives into the facility?
What the hell? This is mind-boggling! How did he order these explosives? Where did he order them from? Where did he get the money? How has been hiding them all over the facility if they never catch him on camera? Why haven’t the angelologists sent a hit team down to kill the bastard who rigged their facility with enough explosives to blow them to Bermuda? None of this is explained. None of this is reasoned. It just is.
This hurts my head, it’s so dumb! Every chapter gives us a reason that the angelololologists should have shot Godwin, and every chapter they shrug and say, “Well, we couldn’t prove anything!” Yes. Yes you can. Why haven’t you worked this out?
Dmitri goes on to explain that the Panopticon has a self-destruct measure that would activate if Godwin’s explosives went off, basically to make sure the place could never be found and leave no trace while simultaneously murdering all the prisoners inside (I’m sure the angelologists are okay dying as long as they kill thousands of Nephilim too). But mainly it’s so that the place can go up like a Bond villain’s lair at the very end of the book.
Dmitri tells our heroes that Godwin’s movements are “like clockwork” and how he follows the same routine every day, and yet fails to explain how he can’t catch the guy doing something wrong. He also says they need to be stealthy, which doesn’t make sense, given that he’s head of security and he should by all rights be able to just hand them key cards or something. There isn’t any reason given why he can’t.
And so they go off, with Bruno strapping on a bulletproof vest and thinking about Evangeline.
Gabriella [Evangeline’s deceased grandmother] would have wanted him to go after Evangeline at any cost—he knew this in his heart, but he also knew that more was at stake than recovering a half-human, half-angel traitor who may or may not turn against them.
When has Evangeline been a traitor? She was never an angelologist; she couldn’t betray you. She hasn’t done anything but been in hiding and then given you the McGuffin to start the Plot. I suppose having wings is enough to be a traitor in Bruno’s eyes, genocidal maniac that he is. Don’t ever give someone Red Bull in front of him, he’d probably shoot them on the spot.
And maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t turn on you guys at all if you weren’t set on eradicating her entire species from the face of the Earth.
It was impossible for him to imagine then that one day he might not be able to save her.
What the hell are you talking about? You’ve never saved Evangeline. You have no bond with her whatsoever. You’re not making any sense. Yeah, there is a mention that he feels like she’s important or something, but this is right out of nowhere. Verlaine is the one invested in her, not Bruno. Bruno’s just the asshat who tagged along because… I dunno. He had a thing for Eno at the beginning I guess.
Anyhow, that’s the end of the chapter. Next time, Verlaine sort of gets to the end of the Plot, and then a couple more chapters until the Epilogue.