I said I’d do final thoughts; I want to do a quick run-down of the issues that plague Angelopolis and conclude with some ideas. Because there’s a lot to unpack when discussing the novel. Originally I considered doing this in two parts, but I think one will do just fine; there’s only so much I can milk out of this book, after all. So let’s get to it.
Angelopolis is an awful book. There’s no getting around it; even if you weren’t going chapter-by-chapter and nitpicking like I was, examining the moral implications of the angelologists’s actions and the details of the constructed world, it’s bafflingly deficient in its composition. Worldbuilding is inconsistent from one page to another, the characters do bizarre things to make the Plot move forward, and in the end plenty of readers were left scratching their heads, wondering what the hell was meant to have happened. I’m not even trying to be mean, I honestly think that this book is objectively badly written. I’d go so far as to say it’s the worst novel I’ve ever read. And I’m confused because I honestly liked the first book. It wasn’t great, it certainly wasn’t one of my favorites, but it was a competently written novel. I don’t know for certain what went wrong between books one and two, but it had pretty noticeable results.
Show, Don’t Tell
By far, this is the problem that stuck out to me first while re-reading through the book; the novel constantly tells us things instead of showing them to us. Characters are not shown doing things to give them individuality; it’s all told to the reader. For instance, in the early chapters we’re told several times that Verlaine is a skilled angel hunter, that he’s athletic, clever, quick-witted and a skilled fighter who can identify and battle evil angel hybrids like a pro. According to Bruno, he’s one of his top agents. And yet through almost the entire novel, Verlaine is constantly getting his can kicked, and he has to get bailed out of trouble by other characters. He’s not even that likable of a protagonist. Verlaine doesn’t ever call for backup, he doesn’t get along well with others, and he’s never shown any particularly noticeable intelligence; every awful situation he gets himself stuck in, someone else has to pull him out of. So at the end of the novel, when he steps up as leader of the angelologists, it comes across as the stupidest decision anyone in the novel makes. The book tells us he’s qualified, but has shown us quite the opposite.
But that’s hardly the only example. There’s one passage where Bruno praises the skill with which Yana captures Eno in St. Petersburg, without giving us a clue as to how she did it or what weapons or tools she used. We’re told Eno is a skilled mercenary, but her first victim in the book is a dead angel who she mistook for someone we later find out she wasn’t supposed to kill in the first place. The angelologists have a powerful ruling council, but no one seems to answer to them when things go wrong, and they give up all responsibility by the end of the novel.
Critical character background is always narrated rather than told to us, sometimes at the most awkward of places. And this is pretty shameful, because it’s almost always something that could easily be displayed or hinted at through organic dialogue. Two quick examples:
-The text tells us Yana and Dmitri used to be engaged in the scene that Dmitri is introduced, a fact that simply could have been slipped in through dialogue. What if there’s some sort of chemistry they have but it never goes beyond flirting or overly long glances. And then someone asks what’s up, why are they acting this way, and it’s explained. Or maybe Yana feels guilty about breaking it off with Dmitri still, and doesn’t want to talk to him? And when they do they’re nervously not meeting each other’s eyes and are oddly formal with each other? So Bruno or Verlaine asks why they’re being weird, and then it comes out. Neither of those is brilliant, but it’s better than what we got, which was a quick explanation that had no bearing on the plot or their character interactions.
-We’re told Vera doesn’t care about her love life as much as work; this barely every comes up. There’s this one weird moment where she puts her hand on Verlaine’s, something that’s obviously meant to be flirtatious or ship tease-y, which contradicts what was said but doesn’t go anywhere. If Trussoni wanted to develop this character trait, she could have had Vera find out about Verlaine’s interest/obsession with Evangeline and be completely baffled on why he lets that get in the way of his work, when she herself wouldn’t. BAM. So much easier.
In short, Trussoni tells us plenty of interesting things about the characters, but when they actually have to step up and show us, the claims always fall flat. Her characters claim to be badasses, and they’re all losers.
The worldbuilding in Angelopolis is atrocious. The last book wasn’t great on that front, but it gave you the basics and it all mostly made sense. Here, things are contradicted at every turn: within the same chapters a single character will mention that the Nephilim are both growing becoming more powerful and becoming weaker in the span of a couple of pages. Saint John the Baptist may have been a Nephilim, but no one thinks to check the remains of him that have just been found and that no one questions were his. Nephilim henchmen are immune to bullets, but the angelologists carry ordinary guns anyway, except for when they carry special stun guns that do work. The forces of the Nephilim are unstoppable, but Yana just happens to have a spell that kills all of the evil henchman in the room with no negative effects to her. The books of the Bible, especially the Old Testament are factual accounts of what happened, except when they’re not and also Jesus was probably the archangel Gabriel’s son. The angelologists use high-tech security measures to transport Nephilim prisoners on a train, but the train cars they use are attached to a public train that anyone could get on, something the villains exploit. They are organized enough to have a database that supposedly has every Nephil in the world registered on it, but can’t be bothered to return Nadia’s husband’s remains to her until ten years after his death on the line of duty.
And worst of all, important things are hinted at but never explained in detail. In the last few chapters the vial of poison that was supposed to kill all the Nephilim turns out to only turn them human, something you’d only suss out if you sort of bend the description of what it was speculated to do by a minor character. Verlaine takes medication, but we’re never told for what. Angelologists can “bind” evil angels, but we’re not told what the heck that means.
And in the end, it all goes to hell, and yet it’s not clear how. We’re told that the world is tearing itself apart, that a third of the world is ruined, and that humanity is “forming armies” but we have no idea what’s going on because we’re not told any of the details that would make this information meaningful. Things go from relatively calm to “the Nephilim are killing every man, woman and goat in sight and a third of the world is dead.” How? [shrugs] I dunno.
There are times when the book simply does an awful job of describing what’s going on. One of the earliest scenes is set at McDonald’s in Paris, but we don’t know anything about it or the character’s actions. Is Eno inside or outside? Is she in line? Is she sitting? The text tells us she’s got a cup, but whether there’s liquid in the cup, or what it might be, is never specified. But then there are scenes where tons of details are given, but none of them are important. When our heroes get on a plane from Paris, the book tells us where Bruno got his lunch. When Vera lands in Bulgaria, we’re told everything she sees as she rides to Azov’s workspace. We’re told the entire history of Azov’s helicopter, which is only in a chapter or two.
Some things are mentioned way past when they’d be relevant or interesting. I didn’t know Verlaine was almost forty until the book casually mentioned that his birthday was next week. Eno being six feet tall is only quickly alluded to. The Devil’s Throat, the cavern location where all the Nephilim are held in a stone prison, is only barely described, and even then not in any detail. Semyaza, a fallen angel who may or may not be Satan, isn’t really given any distinguishing features.
This book could have been longer if Trussoni just bothered to tell us what things looked like, instead of assuring us that her characters were amazing.
The characters in this novel are as dumb as they get. Verlaine, our main protagonist, is the only one who questions why the angelologists are enacting what is more or less a Nazi policy of creating death camps for their enemies, and by the end of the novel he’s firmly on the side of genocide. Why? Because Evangeline won’t give up everything for him.
I don’t think that Verlaine is meant to come across as a sexist pig, but he does anyway; his actions don’t leave the reader much leeway. He remains obsessed with one woman ten years after they’ve ever had any sort of interaction, and when she doesn’t drop a chance to connect with her biological father in order to become human so they could be together, he decides that he has to personally kill her. It’s possible that we’re mean to see Evangeline going with Lucien as “going to the Dark Side,” but we don’t see Lucien do anything evil and no one tells us that we’re supposed to see him that way. And Evangeline isn’t rude to Verlaine, or cruel, or even cold in any way, and she doesn’t do anything to indicate that they’re on opposite sides now. She even puts the cure in her pocket as if she’d like to think it over before making what that important, life-changing decision. So we’re left with the interpretation of “Verlaine wants Evangeline right NOW damnit, and since she lets him down gently he wants to brutally murder her.”
It isn’t as if our hero has any other redeeming qualities. He’s obnoxiously cocky, often going it alone and getting himself in sticky situations where he has to be rescued. And it’s not like he calls for backup on any of these; it’s usually that the other characters go looking for him. The very first sequence in the book has him wandering off without giving Bruno a clue where he’s going, and only after an hour or so does Bruno decide to go investigate. Verlaine is nominated leader in the final scene of the book, and he’s the most unqualified character for the job. The only reason he’s picked is because he’s the protagonist.
The other angelologists and their antagonists don’t have much personality. They’re not even stereotypes.
-Bruno’s got two character traits: he’s proud of Verlaine, and he’s obsessed with Eno. And the latter is dropped by the end of the book.
-Vera is supposedly focused on her work more than social life, but she may or may not be attracted to Verlaine. That’s it.
-Azov has no personality.
-Sveti has no personality. She dies.
-Evangeline has personality, having gone from a sheltered life as a nun to on the run doing whatever she has to in order to survive. But she still has a core personality that’s essentially good and kind in a secret world of brutality and strict hierarchy. An interesting contradiction; so of course, she’s barely in the book.
-Valko is so chill about everything that he might as well be high. He’s also insane, thinking his adopted daughter’s work in eugenics was brilliant philosophy and doesn’t seem fazed about the fact that a murderous madman is hijacking angelologist resources to work for their enemies. He dies.
-Armigus and Axicore are cartoonishly evil. Turns out they’re literal clones of the last book’s villain. They might die; it’s unclear.
-Sneja Grigori has one scene. She’s a Bond villain.
-Eno has personality and a measure of a sympathetic backstory, but she’s also incredibly stupid. And she eats guy’s penises.
-Yana is a badass, but is mostly there to drag Bruno and Verlaine out of bad situations by pulling a deus ex machine out of her ass. She maybe flirts with Bruno once.
-Dmitri’s barely in the book, but he’s incompetent and apparently brings young women into his office all the time. He was once engaged to Yana, but you’d never guess it from how they talk.
-Lucien is barely in the book and is characterized by how nice he is to everyone.
-Godwin is cartoonishly evil, but he knows it and doesn’t care. Eno kills him and eats his penis.
It’s not even caricatures for the most part; it’s just a bunch of unlikable douchebags. Our “heroes” the angelologits are all too happy to enact a genocidal plan of rounding up every hybrid angel in sight, whether or not they’ve actually done anything wrong, and our villains are so clichéd and mustache-twirlingly EBUL that you can’t take them seriously. Evangeline is the exception, I think, and like I said she’s out of commission for the majority of the novel. None of them are likable, none of them have distinct interesting personalities…it’s a nightmare. Usually you have one or two characters you can latch on to as the sane man in these awful books. No such luck in this one.
I’m not sure what the Plot is honestly. I know what happens in it, but I don’t know how we got there, even after reading through the book two or three times. I suppose it’s Verlaine’s quest to save Evangeline, and the conspiracy uncovered along the way, regarding the late Angela Valko’s attempts to make a Nephil superweapon (who turns out to be Evangeline) and Godwin. But the Plot goes in some weird directions. Evangeline gives Verlaine a McGuffin that leads the characters to this whole thing with Rasputin and the Russian Imperial family, just so we can reveal that Evangeline’s father is actually this new character Lucien, and to create a potion that turns Nephilim into humans. But Evangeline doesn’t drink the potion, she just pockets it, meaning that plotline goes nowhere in this installment. The Lucien storyline goes somewhere, but it’s wrapped up in such a vague way that you’re not sure what to make of it. Along the way there is a ton of exposition and globe-trotting, but I have to wonder if all of it was necessary. Could none of these people do any of these conversations over the phone?
I want to say the contrived globe-trotting standard for conspiracy thrillers, but I have no experience with the genre outside of this series, unless you count sporkings of The Da Vinci Code that I’ve found. Either way, it’s not very well done in this book, like almost every aspect.
The book ends so vaguely on a cliffhanger meant to shock you that I can’t help but think that this book is poorly-planned setup for a third book that Trussoni is much more invested in. It’s not that nothing happened in Angelopolis; tons of stuff happens, but it’s all rapid fire and nonsensical. If these revelations about Lucien, Angela Valko, Godwin and Rasputin had been spread out over two or three books, it’d probably work better, as we’d have more time with the characters to see how it affected them. As it is, the book is crammed with Plot that has no room to breathe.
There are sentences with four or five commas in them. That’s weird. Words that should be capitalized aren’t, and there are a couple of misspellings and grammar issues. Basically, it’s not great. Yeah, I mess up every so often, but I don’t sell these sporkings for money. I get that there are always going to be mistakes. But given how many there are in this book, I think the editor just didn’t pay attention.
The book uses the term ‘angel’ as a catchall expression for angels in Heaven, the Watchers locked up on Earth, and the various hybrid races that descended from the Watchers and humanity. That’s a bit confusing, but sure, whatevs.
Angels have blue blood, and hollow bones, and their wings are invisible to Muggles… okay, fine, although that last bit wasn’t actually part of the last book. These are all weird, but they’re not things I take issue with. I take issue with the whole concept of “breeding” that pervades the way they’re described. Angels that are “purer” are considered superior by all of the characters; smarter, stronger and more beautiful. The Nephilim are obsessed with making “purer” offspring that will restore their reign over humanity, and don’t bother to question that maybe that’s not enough to demand obedience. It’s just assumed that people would bow to angels, and given all the talk of Nephilim being seductive and beautiful, and Vera wants to worship Lucien when she meets him, it’s apparently true. What’s weird is that the “purer” Nephilim are apparently good people all around; Lucien’s goodness isn’t attributed to a good upbringing, in the way that say, Hellboy is. It’s because he’s purer, being half-archangel. He’s the child of a good angel, not a bad one. And how does this blood purity mostly manifest itself?
By the “purer” Nephilim and angels almost all having golden flowing locks of blond hair and white skin.
The word “problematic” does not do this book justice.
I know it’s an attempt to have angels appear as classical depictions in art (androgynous-looking men with blond or light brown hair), but then there are characters insisting that the angels’ appearances are Biblical. If you have a passing familiarity with how angels are described in the Old Testament, you’ll know that’s not remotely accurate to the source material. I understand that changing angels to biological creatures for the sake of the story will end up with some differences from theological views of them, and that’s fine—it’s when you insist that there are no differences that I take issue with it.
And going back to the “breeding” thing: it’s implied that the breeding thing applies to actual angels in Heaven too. The archangels aren’t special because they’re the angels God chose or created for their jobs; it’s because they’ve got the special genes. And that’s troubling too, because that might imply that apparently the God of this book’s universe is also a eugenicist. If that was an idea that was explored, I might be offended, but written well it’d still be interesting and worth reading. But it’s not.
Because when it comes to God, we don’t get anything out of Him, which is a bit weird in a book about angels. It’s not just that He doesn’t appear, which is fine, it’s that characters don’t ask about Him or care what He wants. It’s a book about angels and not only is there not a religious character, it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that they should consider the question. In other books, comics, TV shows and movies about angels, God is at least alluded to: He’s prayed to, or He makes His will known in some way or another, albeit vaguely. Here? Nothing. The angels of Heaven don’t even bother to pop down and ask what’s going on with their evil relatives. Apparently the only thing Gabriel comes down for is to have sex with human women and make Nephilim, which doesn’t make sense. I’m not saying that the author should have come up with a pro- or anti-religious stance, or have an in-depth discussion of the nature of religion and monotheism, but… this is a world where angels are definitely real and there is evidence of the Biblical Flood and hybrid angels walk among us, and the characters have barely anything to say about the Big Man Upstairs? What?
And a thing that’s been bugging me, which may just be a nitpick… are the Watchers and Nephilim supposed to be the demons of Christian theology? From the first book, I assumed (and I admit this may be a conclusion that I came up with that wasn’t supported by the text) that the demons were a set of fallen angels sent to Hell, whereas the angels of the Devil’s Throat and their hybrid children, the Nephilim, were something different. But Verlaine makes a comment about evil Nephilim devouring souls (wat) and apparently the Watchers being free would jumpstart the Biblical Apocalypse.
The Angelopolis is irrelevant. When Verlaine and Bruno get to Russia and discover the video Angela Valko made about the virus, the Angelopolis is mentioned and it seems like the Plot is about that—the Nephilim are building or have built a secret city just for themselves. Percival Grigori describes a literal city of angels, decades in the making from collecting tons of angelic materials. We could have done so much with that idea—the moral implications of the angelologists hunting the Nephilim for no reason, how they felt they had to make their own sanctuary to escape to, and tackle the complexities of the secret war taking place. And yet… it’s not. It turns out that the Angelopolis is just Godwin’s laboratory, which doesn’t make any sense at all, given that’s where he dissects lower-tier Nephilim for his experiments. Sure, he works for the Grigoris, but it’s to get rid of the weaker hybrid angels to make stronger ones. It’s not a City of Angels; it’s an angelic Auschwitz.
And then it’s blown up within a few pages of the characters getting there.
So it’s worthless.
Yes, I think this book is awful. And somehow, there are positive reviews of this book, by professionals. I don’t get it, because this book is objectively pretty dang awful. There’s no humor, there’s no depth, there’s no positive character development or consistent worldbuilding. Some of the history is interesting, when it’s correct, but it’s delivered through awkward infodumps and I tend to forget what the characters are trying to get at because it gets so off-track. It’s all too easy not to remember how it’s all supposed to tie together, and your lack of investment in the other parts of the book don’t help.
The more I think about Angelopolis, the more I think it’s a book that shouldn’t exist. I don’t mean that in the sense that I think it’s too horrible (which it is); I mean that in the sense that the book feels unfinished. In the sporking I’ve put a ton of the blame on the author, Danielle Trussoni, for writing this book. But…I feel kind of bad about that in retrospect. Because when push comes to shove, I don’t know if she should get all the blame.
Hear me out: the key descriptions are non-existent, the Plot makes no sense, the characters aren’t developed, the themes are problematic, the worldbuilding doesn’t add up, the main character is a misogynist… they all sound like things the author could have fixed if she had done a couple more drafts of the story. There are good ideas in Angelopolis but they’re buried in with the crap. The editors should have looked at this and refused to publish it until it was cleaned up. Yeah, Trussoni wrote it, but the publisher released it to the public.
I don’t know why. Maybe they had some sort of deadline; that’s the obvious conclusion, because this book (especially the ending of it) seems so rushed. The last few chapter cap the book off with “And then the evil angels escaped and started destroying the world!” instead of giving a proper ending that made sense in context. And with that in mind, I almost feel bad that this book exists, because it reads like something that would have a chance to be good if it weren’t so unfinished. Think about it: maybe, just maybe, this novel could have been decent.
And instead we got this turd sundae of a book.
Those are my final thoughts on Angelopolis. I couldn’t say whether or not I’d spork the sequel when/if it comes out as I honestly don’t know. But for right now, I’m probably going to take a break from writing articles for a while. I certainly don’t see any sporks coming up (though I offered to help someone at some point spork Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel I think? I’m not opposed to that right now.), as I haven’t read any God-awful books recently. I’m going to try to enjoy my summer.