“Angels aren’t here to save you, any of you.
You have to do that all by yourselves…”
– Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: I’m not a big fan of fantasy (urban, romantic, or otherwise) that involves angels and demons, Heaven and Hell, etc. It’s not there isn’t some exceptional work out there because there is – Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim saga, John Meaney’s Tristopolis novels, Vicki Pettersson’s The Taken, etc. – but the majority of it just seems so hackneyed…
But the hesitance was quickly dispelled. Morgan’s novel was fresh and engrossing and decidedly unpredictable. I particularly enjoyed how she darkened the urban fantasy elements with a touch of undiluted horror and created a storyline that also worked allegorically as a spiritual journey.
I loved the dark imagery throughout this novel. There were so many noteworthy sequences that surprised – and impressed – me. The fragile balance between Heaven and Hell is tipping, in large part because the Fallen have discovered a way to create hellmouths – toothy portals to Hell that can transport Fallen and also devour entire families of humans. Morgan’s description of these hellmouths was creepy but that was just the overture. In this memorable sequence, Alice stumbles across one of the Fallen in a graveyard:
“Alice could finally see what was making the cracking sounds, and immediately wished that she couldn’t. Piled up next to the Fallen on the tomb were long, thin bones, which she could only imagine had come from the graves around them. He was picking each up in turn, weighing them in his hands and snapping them neatly in two before lifting each section to his mouth and sucking furiously…”
Aided by an Earthbound angelic mentor named Mallory, Alice learns that she is literally a weapon – she is an empath who gains power from the pain around her – and she is the only one that can possibly stabilize the precarious balance: by voluntarily going to Hell and doing battle with the Fallen.
But her journey into the netherworld isn’t just fraught with corporeal dangers – she begins to doubt herself, her faith, and begins to wonder what side she is really on…
Although these angel-powered storylines can be trite, the potential is also there for some profoundly moving – and enlightening – existential and spiritual themes. Kadrey’s Sandman Slim novels, for example, are literally filled with deeply philosophical (and irreverent) one-liners. Morgan’s novel had a similar vibe:
• “…we don’t worry about who you are when you come to us. We’re more interested in who you were.”
• “Angels aren’t here to save you, any of you. You have to do that all by yourselves. What we’re here for is to make sure you get a fair chance at that.”
• “Time is nothing. A heartbeat in hell is forever…”
• “In my experience… no-one is an innocent.”
This is the first installment in what appears to be a series – Blood and Feathers: Rebellion is scheduled to drop in August of 2013 – and, yeah, I’m already looking forward to it. Urban fantasy fans looking for the next big breakthrough novelist should definitely check out Lou Morgan and her hellishly good debut. You'll never look at angels the same way again.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.
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