Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Angelfall

Author: Susan Ee
Publisher: Feral Dream
Release Date: May 21, 2011
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Purchased via Amazon Kindle
Reviewed by: Renée
Fiction * Post-Apocalyptic * Paranormal Romance

Description from GoodReads:
It's been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels' stronghold in San Francisco where she'll risk everything to rescue her sister and he'll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

I'll be honest and say that I've always been skeptical of self-published books or e-books. Despite the crazy success stories of novels like The Tiger's Curse and Eragon that were purportedly initially self-published, the few interactions I've had with self-published novels or releases from small lesser-known publishing houses have usually been dismal and disastrous. However, I had been hearing some good buzz about Angellfall on Goodreads from bloggers and bestselling authors alike, and I noticed that it was chosen as a finalist for a Cybil award, so I decided to give it a try, and it blew my expectations out of the water. I am so happy to be proven wrong and to have my faith in less conventional publishing methods restored!

The prose was so powerful and strong in Angelfall. The novel is fairly short -- probably a little under 300 pages if it was in print -- so I was worried that the author might not give enough description, but Susan Ee commands words so well that you get a detailed, descriptive story without endless pages of reading. The world constructed in Angelfall is very original. I liked how it blended elements of post-apocalyptic fiction with the paranormal element of angels, so I got the gritty survivalist tough-girl protagonist that I like, with a bit of the fantastical elements that I love. The post-apocalyptic California in the novel is very unique and not like any other post-apocalyptic/dystopian worlds I've encountered before. The concept of this world and this story is just so brilliant. I'm a fan of angel lore, but with so many new stories about angels coming out, some of the themes can get a little too familiar. Angelfall does something great and gives us angels as these destructive, almost evil creatures exacting a brutal apocalypse on humankind, which is a refreshing take on "bad" angel.

Another great thing about this story was the character development. The protagonist, as I mentioned before, is very touch and independent, without being surly or unlikeable. I loved Penryn's devotion to her mother and sister (and eventually Raffe). She was loyal and fierce and had a great personable quality about her that balanced being tough without coldness or hardness. I also loved Raffe. He was very mysterious and multidimensional. There were many surprising things about him that are slowly revealed throughout the novel, and I loved watching his reluctance turn into genuine respect and possible affection for Penryn. These two characters had great chemistry as partners and I loved their interactions together long before there was even a hint of possible romance. Also, their "romance" is so subtle and subdued, taking a backseat to the plot and action, which I surprisingly liked -- I'm a sucker for romance -- because it didn't distract from the serious things happening in the story.

My favorite character, though, was Penryn's mother. Susan Ee tackles some big issues in the novel. Aside from the mechanics of creating a post-apocalyptic world, Penryn's sister has a physical disabilty and her mother is described as schizophrenic. I think the author did a fantastic job of addressing some sensitive topics without making the novel feel preachy or obviously educational. Penryn's relationship with her mother felt very realistic, oscillating between annoyance or guilt about her mother's "insanity" and a unique kind of fondness and love that springs up amidst extraordinary circumstances. As much as I loved the male/female dynamic of Penryn and Raffe, it was her mother who I found to be the most exciting, unpredictable, and ultimately endearing.

I cannot recommend this more highly. The plot moves quickly from the first chapter, the writing is very rich and beautiful, the setting is fresh, and the characters feel so human (even the non-human ones). I read this in one day and the ending left me dying for the sequel. Get it while it's still only $0.99 at Amazon -- if you don't have an e-reader you can still read it on your computer with a free Kindle for PC/Mac download. Fans of Blood Red Road will devour this.

Susan Ee is the author of Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, Book 1). Her short stories have been in various publications including Realms of Fantasy and The Dragon and the Stars anthology. She is also a filmmaker whose latest film played at major film festivals and on cable TV stations throughout the U.S. She studied creative writing through workshops at Stanford, The Iowa Writers' Workshop and Clarion West. You can follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Ee

Her website is:  http://susanee.com/