Today in the ongoing feature “Why We Read” I welcome good BookLikes buddy Olga to the blog. If you would like to know more about Olga, visit her site or her BookLikes page.
I want to meet an angel
By Olga Godim
I write fantasy, so it won’t surprise anyone that I read fantasy too. My favorite fantasy writer is Sharon Shinn. I enjoy her lyrical and magical tales, a blend of fantasy and romance. Her stories are full of light, without the darkness that’s dominated fantasy novels in the past decade. I especially like her older Samaria series. The series’ first novel, Archangel, is one of my favorite books.
I’ve read it several times and enjoyed it each time. It’s a love story but not a simplistic formulaic romance with its required number of sex scenes. Nor is it a religious tractate, despite the unfortunate title. Instead, Shinn deftly weaves together a fantasy thriller and a romantic maze, and the result is a delightfully multicolored and multifaceted tale, bursting with lively tunes and ingenious plot twists, like a classic opera. But above all, it’s a story of two people searching for connection.
The female protagonist, Rachel, is a human. The male protagonist, Gabriel, is an angel. Shinn’s concept of angels is unique in the genre. It has nothing to do with the biblical angels and everything with the writer’s imagination. In her Samaria stories, the author has created a charming race of angels. They’re not divine, far from it. Her angels are arrogant and talented, decadent and dedicated to their duty. They are hot-blooded men and women, fallible and diverse like any other race. Their only deviations from humans are their wings.
Whenever humans of Samaria need divine help, angels fly into the sky and sing/pray to their god, asking for medicine or rain, sunshine or planting seeds, and their god promptly and unavoidably provides. A timely divine intervention: an unattainable dream on Earth but a reality in Samaria. The angels don’t know why it happens or how. But they know their voices make a difference, and they use them for common good.
It’s such a beautiful picture, but behind its lacquered prettiness, contradictions abound: between rich and poor, between fanatics and agnostics, between angels and humans. Fantasy and life collide in Shinn’s story, as personal misunderstandings arise between the two protagonists.
They are incompatible at first glance, but I couldn’t help but care for them both. I wanted them happy and wouldn’t stop reading until they learned to accept and love each other.
Rachel is stubborn and defiant. She dislikes angels; they are too rich, too spoiled, but any underdog is a subject to her compassion.
Gabriel is her opposite – a rich and powerful man, full of goodness but inflexible about his principles. He cares deeply about the land but doesn’t like people much. Here is what he thinks about people and himself:
… they were the same to him, the land and the people, the same in an abstract way: things to be cared for the way some people cared for their crops or their livestock or their collection of glass and pewter. Though he maintained an emotional distance from his people, they were a part of him in ways he could not make anyone else understand. They defined him. They gave him a reason for being. If there were not people for angels to watch over, he, Gabriel, would not exist. And so he loved them because they told him who he was.
And here is his first impression of Rachel:
She looked to be nothing but eyes and tatters and undomesticated golden hair.
Gabriel demands much of others and even more of himself. One of his friends said about him:
“Gabriel gets very testy when angels misuse power for personal comfort. But then, almost everything makes Gabriel testy. If we all conformed to his standards, we would sit mute and motionless… thinking only poor thoughts.”
When Rachel’s simmering passion and Gabriel’s righteous remoteness clash, sparks fly in all directions, offering a fascinating read, especially with the addition of a power hungry villain and a bunch of vivid secondary characters, each with his or her own sets of problems.
Every time I read this book, it touches my heart and play havoc with my emotions. Every obstacle makes me worry, even though I know the heroes would win, and every character inspires a visceral response. I adore them or hate them or envy them. They are alive for me, even the ones with wings. I believe in Shinn’s angels despite my atheism. I long for their beauty, and even their remoteness doesn’t frighten me away. I want some of them as friends. I want to meet an angel at least once in my life. Maybe I already have – through Shinn’s novels.
Of course, I love this book.