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Angels of Darkness by Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Sharon Shinn, and Meljean Brook – review
I wanted a copy of this anthology because Sharon Shinn has an inclusion in it. Period. But the theme (taking the title as the theme) was also intriguing; I have read a few fallen angel stories and enjoyed them, so a collection of current writers working with that part of urban fantasy/paranormal romance sounded like a good way to skim that subgenre (sub-subgenre?). In the end this anthology turned out to be a mixed bag for me, mostly due to the rather schizophrenic mood of it.
I say that because each of the stories had a very different feel from the others. Yes, that means each was distinct. On the other hand, it means you would have to have an extremely wide range of tastes to strogly like all of these stories, especially if you read the offerings in quick succession like I did (I read it in two sittings of two stories each). I am also not sure if this is meant to be more a collection of urban fantasy type adventure/mystery stories with romantic touches, or a romance collection with the fantasy touch of fallen angels. I suppose the only reason it matters is who I’m trying to recommend the collection to.
None of the stories was actually bad. They all entertained me enough to keep the pages turning. However, the emotional payouts varied, as did my overall satisfaction after finishing the various stories.
Probably my least favorite was Nalini Singh’s Angel’s Wolf, which is set in her Guild Hunters universe. It’s about the vampire Noel coming to the court of the angel Nimra, who rules “one of the darkest courts” and the Louisiana Territory. This piece was a mystery—Noel has been sent to figure out which of Nimra’s most trusted courtiers is behind an attack on her life—and also his phoenix story, about finding his purpose in life after nearly being destroyed. I assume he is a character who has shown up in prior books, and that his rescue might have been part of one. I can’t speak to how satisfying this story would be to fans of the series who know and love (or hate) him coming in. My issue was that it seemed…almost too sterile, emotionally, for all the angst of the characters and their situation. I was told, not shown, and I didn’t find myself really engaged by the characters or the mystery because of it. Also this story proved yet again that readers (or writers?) seem to want only the trappings of darkness and not the reality of it, because “dark angel” Nimra turns out (too quickly) to be a big ole softie. Somehow the loneliness and isolating tragedy of her power didn’t really read to me to be as extreme as Noel is told…probably, again, due to the telling not showing thing.
The story that gave me the most mixed feelings was Alphas: Origins by Ilona Andrews. This is part of the Alphas series—well, I assume that’s what it’s called; this is another world I don’t know about. A young widow and her daughter accidentally find an access point to a different dimension and get caught in a war for the survival of the human race. The mother was hit in the crossfire of that particular battle and is given the choice to become a blood donor to one of the Alpha humans (I am taking this term from the title; none of the characters use it), and live, or to die. For the sake of her daughter she chooses survival and has to learn how to contend with this frightening world, her fearsome new keeper, and ultimately her own awakened powers that contact with the other Alphas triggered. Overall I enjoyed this story and felt like it had the best climax, but the story was very fraught. The stress and tension is nearly constant, so it’s not an easy read in the sense of your relaxation as you sit there absorbed in it. BUT when she finally claims her power, you are just so thrilled that she can be proactive and stop reacting to circumstances she can’t control that the relief is amazing. The potential romance with her keeper seemed…either unnecessary or underdeveloped. The situation is resolved before they can come to any true accord or act on the tension that’s been building, so it was kind of unsatisfying for a romance reader, which also makes me wonder why it was put in at all, if it wasn’t going to be explored more fully. The woman’s story would not have been different if she had merely moved from captive to equal member of the team—the only character whose existence influences her actions is her daughter, so the romance seemed superfluous since it wasn’t the focus. But that is my opinion as a romance reader. For urban fantasy readers it might be the right mix.
As expected, I enjoyed Sharon Shinn’s Nocturne. It is, naturally, part of her Samaria series, set some 80 years after Archangel at a “Gabriel School” for abandoned or orphaned children. Moriah works there because she is on the run from angel justice. So when she stumbles onto a blind angel recovering from (sulking about) the accident which caused his impairment in a remote corner of the remote property, she can’t help but approach him in hope of hearing some news of her own status. What begins as curiosity quickly becomes a prickly friendship, with Moriah prodding Corban to renew his own interest in life. I enjoyed the development of their relationship from adversarial to friendly to romantic. Moriah was a hilarious character for me, because between her self-sufficiency and her strident personality and her opinions on getting back up after life knocks you down, well, I might as well have been reading about myself. I will say that this story did not hold any real surprises. I don’t know whether that comes from a familiarity with Shinn’s set-ups, so that I picked up on all the clues she laid early on for what would happen by the end, or if the final build was obvious. It’s not a complaint, exactly, but for those who like to be surprised this story probably won’t yank that cord for you.
The last piece in the collection, Ascension by Meljean Brook, was the most romance-novel-esque of the four. It is another mystery, but the focus is established early on as bringing the two main characters, the Guardians Marc and Radha, back together. I think this is part of a larger series (again, I don’t know it), but the relevant world-building was delivered fluidly. Probably this and the Andrews piece had the most accessible world-building, in that it was a large part of the story (it was not in the Shinn piece) but not reliant on constant references to other stories. The necessary information was presented and then the story was left to tell itself. This was a sweet story about reuniting lovers who have a sorry history of misunderstanding and hurt between them; the romance worked better than the mystery, since the villains turned out less than nuanced.
Overall, I think this collection turned out to be a pretty good sampling of the angel and vampire/angel series out there. I am not sure how well it really lived up to its name, since, of them all, only the Andrews piece featured an “angel” with a really dark power or aura. I would say that if you are a fan of urban fantasy or paranormal romance, with no religious issues reading angel stories (although only the Singh and Brooks worlds even hint at recognizable religious motifs in their angelic representations), or a fan of any of these authors, that the collection is worth picking up. You will probably find that not all the stories are your cup of tea, but I would think for any given reader’s taste range at least half of them will satisfy.