Archon – Sabrina Benulis

archon-2

Summary:

Angela Mathers is obsessed with visions of angels, supernatural creatures who haunt her thoughts by day and seduce her dreams by night. Released from a mental institution, she hopes her new university, West Wood Academy, will give her the chance at a normal life.

But such is not to be. . . . For a secret coven plots within West Wood, and demons and angels alike walk the streets of Luz, searching for the key to open Raziel’s book–a secret tome from a lost archangel. Some wish to destroy Raziel, others, like the Supernal Israfel, one of the highest of the high, to free him. For when the Archon rises as foretold, they will control the supernatural universe.

Torn between mortal love and angelic obsession, Angela holds the key to both Heaven and Hell, and both will stop at nothing to possess her. . .

Review:

This is a tough one. It’s a book that has some good ideas, creative mythology and some great action-filled set-pieces that would make for a great movie (the book as a whole feels cinematic). On the other hand, it’s a book that lacks soul, or perhaps it’s better to say it lacks heart. It’s a book that you want to keep reading to see what’s going to happen next, but also a book that felt like it wants to keep you the reader at a distance.

After I finished reading, I spent a decent amount of time pondering just what it was that didn’t work, and I’ve pinned it down to two things that I think are what held it back:

First, as clever as the world building is, she forgot one important part of the world: that which does not immediately contain Angela’s immediate surroundings. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? But here’s why it’s important: in this book, we’re told that the Vatican came out one day and said “Guess what guys, the Archon is coming and She will be the Ruin so we’re going to set up an academy for blood heads so we can help her control her powers.” And apparently, everyone went along with this. I scratched my head. What kind of world is this? What do people in this world actually believe? Is everyone Catholic and the Protestant Reformation never happen? Do people commonly believe in witches and demons and angels and the like or is this a limited belief? Angela has been institutionalized, but I’m still not certain that it wasn’t more for the fact that she set her house on fire trying to kill herself and killed her parents instead than her dreams and beliefs that Angel’s exist. There are moments in the book where people are surprised by angels, but there’s also a society of witches on this campus too. And yet despite the existence of the Pentacle Sorority witchcraft can still get you burned at the stake. I think context would have provided some clarity to where we were when the book began and help better establish the rules were playing by. It’s that situation where the details may not change the plot, but they give the reader firmer footing when going into this.

More importantly than this, the other issue is Angela herself. Although I questioned whether she would have been institutionalized had she not lit that fire, by the midpoint of the book, I got the sense that she really wasn’t sane. And when I mean insane, I don’t mean that she’s a psychopath (not at all) but there is this detachment from reality. So insistent is she that these angels that she sees in her dreams are real that she doesn’t really even blink when they do turn out to be real. Oh sure, she has moments of legitimate fear when her life is endangered, but she handles the events of this book remarkably well, too well, almost. And while I respect why the author went this route (sanity is a recurrent theme, as it touches on several characters) it is problematic. While I am sympathetic to the character – her past was traumatic enough to explain a lot of her beliefs – I’m not empathetic to the character. And with no empathy, there can be no emotional investment in the character or the outcome of her tale. Furthermore, when she does slip into some moments where these darker emotions look like they might consume her, it doesn’t feel like an arc or development.

Aside from this, the other problem I have with Angela is my usual issue with the Chosen One trope: her guardian angel of sorts only helps her in moments of absolute need, when death is mere seconds away. The book makes it very clear that he prevented her from completing dozens of suicide attempts by jamming guns, breaking blades, causing her to pass out instead of drown and what have you  because he needs her help- so why doesn’t he teach her what she needs to know in drips and drabs? Less dramatic, but more sensible!

I do think these are legitimate issues because it does make it hard to become emotionally invested in the book. On the other hand, there are some interesting side-characters here, and like I said, I like the mythology. The story of Isfrael, Raziel and Lucifel is compelling as is the truth behind the Book of Raziel. There’s some good stuff here, and it does show that the author did put some thought and creativity into this. Ultimately though, the problems are fairly signification and it’s not strong enough to transcend the genre.

Verdict: Borrow it. Although imperfect, it’s still worth a look.

Available: Now. The sequel Covenant is due out April 1st. Look for a review in March!

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