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.