Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Archangel by Sharon Shinn


Title: Archangel (Samaria, #1) 

Author: Sharon Shinn 

Rating: 4.5 Stars 

I'm at a loss for words when it comes to Sharon Shinn's Archangel. Utterly torn in fact. I was so sure this novel would earn a hearty 5 Stars from me and make its way to my 'favorites' shelf, but alas, I couldn't bring myself to fall in love with this as I thought I would.

I suppose I'll start at the beginning. I woke up early today morning with plenty of time left before I really needed to be out of bed. Thus, I perused my Kindle library and stumbled upon this. I thought I'd read a chapter or two before lazily making my way out of bed, but before I knew it, it was time for lunch (I completely missed breakfast!) and I was just over half-way done with this book. Needless to say, I devoured my lunch as fast as I could, read till nearly the end of the novel, forced myself to do some productive work, and went about finishing this tale.

Archangel is the first of a series of five novels that all take place in the fantasy land of Samaria. From the surface, Archangel is nothing more than a romance. Gabriel has been chosen by Jovah, the God, to become the next Archangel, or ruler of Samaria. Every twenty years a new Archangel is installed and they assume their power when they sing during the annual Gloria ritual with their angelica, or chosen bride. The angelica is chosen by Jovah as well and Gabriel is told that her name is Rachel. Thus, with less than six months before the Gloria, Gabriel must find his wife.

Rachel, however, proves elusive to find. While she was born a farmer's daughter, her home was destroyed when she was young. Thus, she spent her years with a traveling pack of nomads before she was sold into slavery to work in a rich man's household. It is there, quite coincidentally, that Gabriel finds her. Although her life has been hard, Rachel's spirit has never been broken and just as she is about to receive freedom, Gabriel whisks her away to be his bride. Needless to say, the headstrong young woman and the impatient angel don't get along and their relationship is strained.

Archangel chronicles the beautiful, blooming love story between Rachel and Gabriel. It is slow, achingly realistic, and allows you more than enough time to become wholly invested in their affair. Yet, more than that, it is a novel of two people, their faith, and a nation. Archangel switches between the third person perspectives of both Rachel and Gabriel, giving us a well-rounded picture of both our protagonists as well as their land. Samaria is a fantasy nation that Shinn has richly imagined, and her world-building is artfully crafted. Not only are we made to understand the heavy undertone of religion that surrounds this land, without it ever becoming preachy, we are also made to witness the politics that lie in the nation. Perhaps best of all, though, is that Shinn uses her religious country as a realistic force in the novel itself.

Gabriel, as the incoming Archangel, knows the inner-workings of his country and has grown up believing in Jovah. Yet, there are doubters in the land and many of the theological discussions are fascinating, while never straying into the realm of "preach-like" in the least - a feat I was amazed to see accomplished. Furthermore, Rachel's perspective growing up with nomads allows us to see the multi-racial diversity of the land, not to mention the different customs they held.

Yet, what pulled me in about this novel were the characters themselves. Both Rachel and Gabriel are such intense and complex characters, that I can't truly claim to know them fully, even now. With her past, Rachel has become stubborn, unwilling to allow anyone close to her heart and her unyielding will often does more harm to her life than good. Furthermore, her actions are driven by the fact that she has never had choices in her life and as such, she seizes the opportunity to be free of Gabriel's clutches, despite the fact that they gradually fall in love. Gabriel too is multi-dimensional, having grown up to assume the task of Archangel, and his growth under Rachel's influence is slow-burning and moving. What I love about their relationship most of all is that it is full of arguments and mistakes and very, very few tender moments, but their estrangements from one another shape their marital life and the distances they put, both literal and metaphorical, only make their relationship stronger.

So, what went wrong? In all honesty, I can't be completely sure. We have a villain in Archangel and while I was satisfied with the manner in which that particular plot wrapped up, I don't know if I can say the same about Rachel and Gabriel's romance. No, don't get me wrong - I loved it. I'm thrilled by the ending, but I remain disappointed by Rachel's lack of growth. Or rather, enough growth. While I understood where her stubborn, hard-will nature stemmed from and even saw the logic of her actions at the end of the novel, since Rachel needed some time to be her own person and take her own actions before she could back to Gabriel and even that had to be by her own choice, I somehow didn't enjoy the manner in which everything played out. Was it rushed? Was Rachel's contemplation of taking in another suitor mystifying? Or was it just her constant denial of her love for Gabriel and that, even when they reunited by the end, she couldn't allow herself to show her emotions? I don't know. I feel as if Rachel took the logical next step in her progression, but it was such a small step and I wish the novel could have continued on for us to really see more and feel 100% satisfied in her relationship with Gabriel.

Nevertheless, I can't deny I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will definitely be picking up the fifth book, which continues the story with another character from this novel, if not the others, which are separate novels of their own. Yet, I am still flabbergasted by my rating and my overall thoughts on this one. I'd highly recommend it though, to anyone looking for an interesting new take on angel fantasy, or just someone who loves music. Of course, that cover does no favors for this novel (I can't re-call any scene where Rachel held a glowing blue orb and a feather in her hands...and she has blonde hair!), the story inside more than makes up for it. I'm hoping that, someday down the line, I will be older and wiser and sit down to read this book and wind up loving the ending and giving this the five stars I still believe it deserves. Until then though, I'll probably keep these characters in my heart and hope that others will discover Sharon Shinn's masterpiece as well.

18 comments:

  1. Haha, when you describe the scene on the cover like that it does seem crazy that they chose it when it never occurs in the story!

    I have never heard of these books or the author but a 4.5 rating is excellent and you have me interested even though I am wary of angel books!

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  2. I'm glad I read your review, because I probably never would have given this a second glance otherwise. As you said, the cover does it no favours. I shouldn't be such a cover snob, but it's a habit I can't break!

    I love me an angel story, so I'm interested to see the mythology explored here. I love that you say the worldbuilding and religion are richly explored without becoming preachy. Sorry that something was a little lacking for you, but still, 4.5 is a highly recommended rating! :D Beautiful review, as always, m'dear!

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  3. Oh a 4.5 star rating is still great right? Sorry this book wasn't able yo make it to you favourites shelf Keertana, but by golly this book sure does have a lot to offer, you know me I'm not a huge fantasy fan, but your review has certainly got me interested in this book! Whenever I'm in the mood for a fantasy I will be sure to give this book a try! Thank you hun for yet another insightful review! :)

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  4. Even though you didn't fall completely in love with this one, it does sound like a book to check out! Love that the characters are so complex and dimensional. Great review!

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  5. I've never heard of this series before but based on your review, it sounds like something I'd want to check out! I'm a little iffy about angel books because I've already read a couple really good ones. But I think I'll add this to my TBR list anyway :) Great review!

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  6. I have to agree with Brodie - if not for your review, I would have skipped right past this book based on that cover. It has kind of a textbook feel to it and that's something that ensures my eyes gloss over and then move on to the next book on the shelf. Angel stories have been steadily growing on me, so I'm thinking this might be something that would work well for me. Even if it didn't earn the full 5 stars from you, it's clearly an amazing story!

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  7. I am sorry that this didn't quite become the utterly fantastic fantasy masterpiece for you, Keertana! I agree with everything you said, although this is a book that I would unhesitatingly give 5 stars. I think it's beyond excellent and still the best angel book I've ever read. Shinn's angels are definitely my favorite part of these books. They're so nuanced and realistic. And, like you said, Shinn does such a good job of incorporating this monotheistic religion as a central part of her story without actually preaching it. And I love all the music references, despite not being musical myself. I do hope you can come back to this book at some point and more fully enjoy it, but until then maybe you should try Shinn's Summers at Castle Auburn? (I actually still have to read the rest of the Samaria books, despite having read Archangel multiple times. Maybe future reviews from you will convince me to do so!)

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  8. Keertana, you write beautiful reviews! I've never actually heard of this book before but your description of the characters definitely makes me want to read it. Although you gave it a very high rating, it's too bad that the book didn't live up to your full expectations. I know exactly how you must have felt. Thanks to your review, I will definitely be on the lookout for Archangel!
    Lovely review, Keertana!

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  9. I was thinking the same thing when I popped in...bad cover is not helping this good book. I would have totally passed this up based on cover alone, It sounds like a thrilling read and I like that you devoured it, that speaks volumes. I have not heard of this so I am going to head over to Amazon and check it out.

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  10. Yeah, not a great cover! Your description of Rachel has me thinking I might not love her. But it sounds like a great story! Its sure got some great blurbs, I don't know why I didn't hear of it sooner.

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  11. Glad to see you enjoyed this Keertana. It's so hard to find really good angel stories. This sounds intriguing and I LOVE the heroine's name, lol! Great review. :)

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  12. Despite some criticism, 4.5 stars from you is certainly a big deal. You're not very generous with your stars, and neither am I, so that means the good outweighed the bad by a lot. I'm sorry you weren't happy with Rachel's growth and I'm familiar with that feeling when something bothers you, but you can't quite put your finger on it.
    As a cover snob, I never would have picked this up on my own, but now I certainly will.

    And you don't read while you eat? Pfft. One of these days, Ferguson, my Kindle, will fall into my soup and then I'll be in serious trouble.
    Amazing review as always.

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  13. Question, dearest Keertana. Where did you get this from to get it for you kindle? I can't find an ebook. Maybe I don't know all the ebook sites or something...

    Still, shame you couldn't fall entirely in love you have still managed to sell the novel to me so much. It sounds really brilliant. Even with the main character being a little bit too stubborn.

    And you're right, that cover does nothing for the novel. Nothing at all. I saw it and thought "Really, what the hell is this?" I know, I shouldn't judge, but it looks so old.

    Lovely review, you get better and better!

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  14. Total agreement with everyone's comments about the cover:)

    But I have not ever heard of this book or this writer and after your review I am so intrigued. I am not always one for angel mythology. There are exceptions (Cassandra Clares's angels and of course, Laini Taylor's Seraphim) but on the whole they aren't my fave of all supernatural beings. But something about this book, and your review, really makes me want to give it a shot. I know you have some issues with it but really, your review seems very positive so I am definitely adding it to my TBR list:)

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  15. *hangs head in shame* Can you believe I've NEVER heard of this book? Is it *gasp* the cover? (Which reminds me a lot of the cover for Daughter of the Forest, btw). Despite the minor issues you had with it, your praise really shines through in your spectacular review, Keertana! :) On to my TBR list it goes. ;)

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  16. When I saw that you'd reviewed this one, I was torn between excitement to hear your thoughts and total jealousy that you'd gone and read it first. :P

    I have a ridiculous amount of Shinn's novels on my TBR, and yet I haven't read any. Part of the reason is that there always just seems to be SOMETHING holding people back from loving them the way I want to. This one seems to be the most beloved, so I'm surprised to see your reaction, but your reasoning is totally understandable. I love the sound of this romance--it's precisely the type I love most. Hopefully there will be more growth for you in the future books.

    Lovely review, dear!

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  17. 4.5 is almost perfect! That's high praise for sure. I've also never heard of this book but it's definitely going on my TBR pile after this review. I'm always on board for an awesome fantasy book.

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