Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days #1) by Susan Ee

The apocalypse has come in the form of Angels from heaven determined to wipe out humanity.  Penryn struggles to survive with her mother and her sister Paige sleeping and scavenging food were they can.  Together the three are no match for the angels who are bent on the destruction of the human race.  The three come across angels in a deathly battle and try to hide but when they are discovered Paige is taken.  Penryn does the only thing she can do - help the wounded angel in the hopes that he will help guide her to her sister.  Together Raffe and Penryn make a perilous journey towards the angel stronghold each with the their own objective.  Can their temporary truce hold long enough for Penryn to get her sister back and for Raffe to reclaim her wings.

I'm not normally a fan of YA but Angelfall hits all of the right notes.  The writing is beautifully descriptive making it easy to picture the desperation of humans and the utter destruction of the landscape.  The humans are clearly caught between forces they can barely comprehend and still yet they preserver.  At it's heart, Angelfall is a story of survival.

 Penryn is also smart enough to try and coax information about angels from Raffe though and she is constantly caught between her budding relationship with him and wanting humans to win in the resistance movement. Penryn questions whether collaborating with the enemy to save her sister makes her an enemy of the human race. As much as she comes to trust Raffe, there are lines even she won't cross. 

Penryn is extremely brave though at times a bit spunky.  She rushes into situations without thinking but the majority of her actions are based on loyalty and love. I found it interesting that when Penryn got into a physical altercation with a male survivor that she assumed the fight wouldn't last because the other survivors wouldn't allow a man to beat up on a woman.  In the supposed new world order in terms of fights between humans, it's every person for themselves.  The work is largely divided by gender with the woman doing the washing and cooking with the men doing the heavy manual labor.  Penryn actively rejects this model of life as refuses to fall into a patriarchal gender norm because the men find it convenient.  Penryn rejects any form of sexism directed at her. 

Often in stories depicting angels they are not depicted nearly as horrifying as they should  be to humanity.  Often there is a fixation on their stunning good looks and perfect bodies.  Raffe actively questions why any human before the apocalypse would be happy to see an angel considering that the bible they are actively depicted as God's warriors.  An angel, no matter how beautiful, always has one wing dipped in blood.  Angels are to be feared and not romanticized. In many ways, this approach reminds me of the movie series The Prophecy. An angels beauty is directly juxtaposed to their violent and sense of superiority. 

In terms of inclusion, though Ee is most obviously a woman of colour, there are no people of colour in this novel.  There are also no GLBT people which is extremely problematic given a large part of this novel is set in California.  It had me wondering if the angels decided to kill all of the people of colour and the GLBT people when they attacked the earth. Angelfall did however include a disabled character - Paige.  Unfortunately, for a large part of the story she was simply a victim who needed to be saved.  We did however get a strong sense of how hard it would be for a disabled person to survive in this post apocalyptic world.  I did however find it problematic that in the end, Paige's disability was magically erased to serve the story.  

I must admit that Angelfall kept me up late because I simply had to know how it ended.  The story was extremely fast paced but at the same time, I really felt like I got to know all of the characters intimately, along with their motivations. The world Ee built was absolutely great and a wonderful step back to approach paranormal romance takes with angels.  Though Angelfall is a YA novel, it really didn't have that sense for me because of the questions that were asked about the nature of the universe.  Raffe for instance is an agnostic angel. If anyone is going to believe in God, you would think that it would be an angel.  I cannot wait to read the second book in this series to discover where Ee intends to take this characters and see how much further the world she has created will grow.