Book review: Angelfall or “Yes, I actually read good books!”

image from amazon

image from amazon

I have to admit I don’t quite dive into positive reviews with the same relish as I would snarky ones. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because really good books leave me satisfied when they’re finished, so I’m more likely to just sit in the warm glow of happy book feelings rather than be like:

And then promptly have to dissect and make fun of every particle of shittiness in here.

So yeah, basically, Angelfall is dystopia and paranormal romance: ur doing it right. After burning through Divergent and Insurgent this book was like a breath of fresh air, let me tell you. This is not to say the concept or its execution is wholly original—far from it—but rather, in the hands of a skilled author, the tropes can work. So I’ma break this down by trope and explain why Angelfall was able to pull off what so few other YA books in this genre were.

The Concept
Right now, YA dystopias are all the rage. Most of them have gimmicky premises that sound cool at first but are easily dismantled after a few minutes of thought. I suppose Angelfall has the angel thing as a gimmick, but otherwise, the world building is pretty solid. Now, even though I went to Catholic school and was forced to read Paradise Lost in college, I wouldn’t call myself an expert in angel lore. But I don’t think that really matters. The universe established in this book holds together pretty well in terms of its internal logic. It’s the not-too-distant future, and a postapocalypic Earth (quite literally; the few references Penryn makes to the past refer to events in Revelations) has been taken over by angels. The human world is a pretty lawless place, with people hiding from street gangs and angels and just trying to survive. Penryn is no exception, trying to keep her family—a mentally ill mom and disabled younger sister—together. When she finds herself caught in the middle of an angel dispute, her family is separated and her sister abducted by an evil angel. To get her sister back, she’s forced into an unlikely alliance with another angel, Raffe, who lost his wings in the attack.

The heroine
OK, so I guess there were some aspects to Penryn that were special snowflakey. Unusual name? Check. Dysfunctional/tragic family? Check. Special ability? Check. (She can lift Raffe’s sword and apparently no humans can wield angel weapons). Beautiful and didn’t know it? Check. And yet she doesn’t make me want to roll my eyes every other page. So what gives? I think it is because the narrative doesn’t constantly dwell on how special she is all the time. She isn’t put into situations that constantly showcase her specialness and people aren’t constantly complimenting her. She doesn’t particularly stand out, both at a human rebel camp and at the Angels’ stronghold. She’s treated just like everyone else. She’s also a sympathetic character. Her motivations are understandable and so are most of her actions. Her skills are explained in a way that is realistic (she took a lot of self-defense classes as a child which is why she is good in combat) and her gritty street-smart nature fits with her family background (in recent years, she’s been more of a mother than her actual mother). Finally, we have an author who understands the concept of show, don’t tell. One of the most off-putting things about so many YA protagonists is the constant need to affirm how great they are (usually via compliments from other characters) with no real textual evidence to back it up. Angelfall does the opposite. We aren’t told all the time how awesome Penryn is. But her actions let us know that she’s smart, capable, and strong.

The hero
At first glance, Raffe is your archetypal YA hero. He’s dark, brooding, mysterious… and oh yeah, he’s an angel. His characterization is a bit thinner than Penryn’s since the book is in first-person from her POV, but he nonetheless is able to rise above his archetype. See, he is able to be a badass character without being an abusive asshole! I know, right? What a concept. Despite his reluctance to work with Penryn, he never treats her badly or knowingly puts her in danger. He protects her without trying to control her or pulling creeper moves like cutting her brakes or watching her sleep. He’s brash and snarky, but not embarrassingly tryhard. He just wants to get his wings back, but seems to have a grudging respect and sympathy for Penryn’s plight. Their relationship gradually grows from one of wary mistrust to guarded friendship to a powerful bond, which leads to my next point:

The romance
No Insta-Luv! Let’s throw a party up in here.

oprahyay

Seriously, you guys. You do not know how damn glad I am to read a well drawn YA romance that isn’t excessively focused on sparks and physical attraction and omg he’s sooooooo dreamy. Well, Raffe is dreamy, but you know what I mean. We actually get significant interaction between them! Scenes of them connecting as people! (Well, a person and an angel). A bond that, by the end of the book, is clearly as strong emotionally (if not more) as it is physically! A YA romance with substance and not all

bigstarkiss

You really get a sense of why these two people are so deeply connected and why we should care. Both characters are developed well individually so they feel like real people, and the romance feels real. So when a certain heartbreaking scene occurs, you’ll be all

Because the writing actually made us care! Halle-freakin’-lujah! I’ve never been so glad a book made me its bitch! Well, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

The plot
I got into this a little with the previous sections, but without giving away too many spoilers… this book has it all. Unlike so many other YA dystopians, it’s got some grit to it. Ironically, it actually has less violence than most of the dystopians I’ve read—the horror is mostly psychological. There are definitely some bits that will gross you out, not in a cheap campy horror flick way but a “this is some disturbing shit” way. The plot is a can’t-go-wrong balance of action, horror, and suspense. The pacing is excellent, and unlike many other adventure narratives, doesn’t sag in the middle and then slam you with so much action in the final third or so it all becomes mind-numbing. Plus, if you’re from NorCal, then you’ll enjoy reading about familiar haunts getting the apocalypse yesterday treatment.

Other stuff
This book is also a great example of trimming the narrative fat, so to speak. At a tight 220-some pages, depending on your edition, there isn’t much room for the bloat found in other YA books in this genre. There isn’t an army of virtually interchangeable supporting characters, either—the ones that do show up are pretty memorable, and easy to keep track of. So is the plot, for that matter. It’s a well-crafted, quick, and fun read—the best part is that you don’t even need to turn your brain off to enjoy it! Imagine that!

So yeah, I guess you could say I liked this book. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys sci-fi, dystopian, angels, and books in general. Good times to be had by all.

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3 thoughts on “Book review: Angelfall or “Yes, I actually read good books!”

  1. Loved this post, I was here looking for some insight into some good paranormal romances as that is what I am into at the moment. I was given Jody Summers Dark Canvas, darkcanvas.net for it’s info. I wasn’t sure I was going to read it, cracked it one day and never put it down. Finally and sadly it ended so I need another to keep me going.

  2. YAY! So happy you enjoyed this one. I’ve been thinking of rereading it because the sequel is coming out next month. I read Angelfall early last year, and I think I remember it well enough, but it’s just such a great (and short!) book that a refresher wouldn’t hurt.

  3. Hi there! Found this post as I was searching google for books like Angelfall. Your review is spot on! Angelfall is so unique because it’s solid. There is nothing worse than reading a book where the main characters fall in love after two days without any reason other than he’s so strong and so attractive. It’s also extremely nice having a book in this genre that has a cover I’m not embarrassed about.

    Anyway, given that we seem to have the same taste when it comes to these kind of books, any luck finding something that’s as good? I spent hours skimming through amazon but nothing… apparently the new thing now is men that are bears?! wtf Most of the books I can’t even look at because the covers (bare male chest + fog + a brown bear in one corner) AND titles (A Bear’s bride ???) are SO bad! And these are apparently on a Fantasy Bestseller list. If I see one more cover featuring a couple and a man’s bare chest I’m gonna give up. Believe it or not, but it’s gotten so bad I’m writing my own book now. haha

    But seriously, let me know if you have any recommendations on what to read. I just want a solid fantasy story with a heroine I actually care about and a romance that’s subtle and doesn’t make me roll my eyes. 🙂

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