Rainy Monday! My choice for the week is an absolute masterpiece, Archangel by Sharon Shinn. This novel is one of my favorite books. I have a list of ten books that I compile every year,and Archangel has been there for a good while. I read it several years ago, and I have been rereading it at least once a year. It’s my comfort reading. Archangel is the first in a series of five set in the imaginary planet of Samaria. A complex array of human beings populates the variegated geography of the planet. The Manadavvi are sophisticated landowners from Gaza. The Jansai are greedy merchants from Jordana. The peaceful Edori are composed by nomadic tribes hunted by the Jansai and forced to slavery. Above them all reign the Angels, superior human beings who can fly and communicate directly with the god Jovah by singing. The angels sing to Jovah to keep Samaria’s erratic weather pattern under control. They sing to ask for medicines that fall from the sky. The angels live separated from the humans in three hosts that divide Samaria in as many regions. Raphael, the current Archangel, is also the leader of the host in Windy Point. Ariel is the leader of the host in Monteverde. Gabriel is the leader of the host in the Eyrie, and the next appointed Archangel. The story is set in motion when Gabriel seeks the Oracle Josiah to ask the god for the name of his bride, the Angelica. Gabriel has delayed the task as long as possible, but the mass gathering singing of the Gloria is only six month ahead. To his surprise, the god Jovah has selected for him an Edori slave. Rachel is headstrong and not at least awestruck by the arrogant angel who proclaims to be her chosen spouse. She refuses to believe Gabriel, even when her “kiss” (the colored piece of glass most of the Samarian children get implanted during the Dedication Ceremony) illuminates to match his own. Rachel, daunted by her feelings toward Gabriel, runs away from him at every turn, looking for the comfort of the Chievens, the Edori tribe that adopted her when she lost her family. At first Gabriel is forced by the circumstances to follow her. It is his duty to make her listen to reason. Without the Angelica by his side during the Gloria, the annual gathering where everybody in Samaria must sing in harmony, the life on the planet will be annihilated by Jovah. In his journey across Samaria Gabriel realizes the depth of his sentiments toward the renegade bride. He understands where she comes from, and what she has endured to become who she is. Gabriel and Rachel united will save Samaria from the destruction caused by Raphael. What I liked the most about the cosmos Sharon Shinn has created is the absolute coherence of the characters and their environment. While I was reading the book I found myself more than once imagining about the places Shinn described. The blue city of Luninaux, where the craftsmen live, vibrant with life and shining with art. The white city of Semorrah, built on a small island in the middle of the river Galilee, where Rachel is brought as a slave to serve a family of river merchants. Gabriel’s beloved Eyrie, a place where celestial music is sung day and night, perched over the busy city of Velora. The bleak peak of Windy Point where Raphael commits his acts of hubris against the divinity. And as detailed is the description of the geography in Samaria, so is the description of each character. From the two protagonists, Gabriel and Rachel, who are both strong and weak at the same time, to the secondary characters who propel the story. Nathan and Magdalena are a good example of the quality of the subplot in Archangel. They are both angels, respectively brother and sister of Gabriel and Ariel. In Samaria angels, both men and women, are strongly encouraged to bed as many human partners as possible to ensure angelic progeny. Angels are difficult to be conceived, and the union of two of them is prohibited because it doesn’t normally end up in healthy babies. Nathan and Magdalena fight their sentiments, but their “kisses” come alive the first time they kiss. Every character in the novel has a story, and all the stories come together beautifully in rendering a well drawn picture of a whole universe. Sharon Shinn commented that the first scene she envisioned when writing Archangel was when Gabriel shields Rachel in his wings. It’s the same scene that makes me come back to the book again, and again. Rachel wakes up, after a traumatic experience, fully embraced in a white cocoon of feathers. The scene is breathtaking because of the two characters involved. Sharon Shinn is very good at creating conflicts that transform a mere embrace into something more. Something that makes you read a novel several times. Each book in the Samaria series can be read as a stand-alone, but I suggest to read them following the chronological order of the story line (even though is not the order Sharon Shinn wrote them). Angelica would be the first one, set one hundred years before the events narrated in Archangel. Archangel would be the second one, followed by Angel-Seeker set few years after it. Jovah’s Angel is set one hundred years later. And finally the truth about Samaria and it’s vengeful and mercurial god is uncovered in The Alleluia Files. A final consideration is due about John Jude Palencar, who is the artist behind the ethereal covers of the Samaria’s books. Before I bought my copy of Archangel, I picked up one at my local Library simply because my eyes were caught by the clean beauty of the art cover. Love at first sight. It exists serendipitously.
Have a glorious reading.