A Terrible Fall of Angels by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Once upon a time, Laurell K. Hamilton was on my must-buy list. The first book in the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, Guilty Pleasures, came out in 1993. She was one of the first urban fantasy writers I remember seeing, several years before the genre really took off. I bought every Anita Blake book up to what I consider the last good (or at least readable) book in the series, Obsidian Butterfly, and a couple of books beyond. Unfortunately, by then the drop in quality was so obvious that I couldn't continue. It was sad to see a series I had enjoyed descend so quickly into badly-written vampire porn. I also tried the first four books of the Merry Gentry series but soured on them as well. Until I saw the hardback of this book in my library, I hadn't read anything by this author in more than ten years.
I'm not sure why I picked this book up. Maybe it was nostalgia, because I really liked Hamilton's writing at one time. Maybe it was because it was in the library, and I could take a chance on it without losing any money. Possibly because it was a new series and a new protagonist, and I was hoping against hope that her writing had improved. Whatever the motivation, I gave it a try.
Reader, I regret it. This is one of the worst books I have ever read by this author, and after Cerulean Sins and Incubus Dreams, that's saying quite a lot.
This is a supernatural police procedural, set in a world of angels, demons, witches and other supernatural creatures, where magic is real and God exists. ("God" being the Christian god--tellingly, we never hear anything about Allah, Zeus, Loki or Anansi.) Our protagonist Zaniel Havelock is a cop and a trained Angel Speaker--he can see angels and demons, and communicate with all the different kinds of angels, from guardian angels to seraphim. Zaniel spends twelve years training at the College of Angels, from seven to nineteen, only leaving after a crisis of faith (and falling in love with a seraph). Zaniel spent some time in the army, where he got his nickname of Havoc (which I guess the author thought was cute, but which wears thin quickly, especially since everybody in the book repeats it fifty billion times), and after his discharge went into police work. He marries a woman named Regina, or Reggie, and they have a son, Connery. The marriage has hit a rough patch because Reggie has difficulty accepting Zaniel's job, and at the beginning of the book they are separated. In the opening chapter, Zaniel becomes involved in an angelic murder mystery, and spends the book (at least the part that doesn't deal with his emotional/marital issues and endless pages of pointless conversations) hunting down a murderous demon.
I don't even know where to start with the problems in this book, so I will relate the things that irritated me the most. This story is badly plotted, and the pacing is atrocious. The first encounter with said murderous demon, in a hospital, is broken into chapter breaks that should have been individual scenes, some only a page or two long. Really? C'mon, let's just insert an asterisk here if you absolutely must have a break, and get on with the story. These mini-chapters don't portray the urgency of what's happening at all, mainly because there's so damn much extraneous, useless dialogue. (Which isn't the only problem with the dialogue, but I'll get to that.) After this initial fight is finally wrapped up, the middle section leaves the case behind almost entirely to focus on Zaniel's marital problems, with more bloated chapters of couples therapy and an endless conversation in the parking lot after. After all of Zaniel's worrying about his son, we never even get to meet the kid, which makes Connery come across as an opaque placeholder only there to insist that Our Hero Is a Good Father. Zaniel says he is, but you don't believe it, because it's never shown to be true.
The second and greater problem with the dialogue: most of it is cringingly awful. Hamilton has the maddening habit of having her characters say each other's names over and over throughout every single conversation, even one-on-one, when you would think said characters would have a clue who they're actually talking to. Just flipping to a random page and a few lines:
He shook his head. "Someone should have been powerful enough to figure this out earlier, Z."
"I don't know why they couldn't help you more, Jamie."
He screamed. "That is not my name!" His hands were in fists at his sides. He was so angry he was shaking.
"Levi," I said, my voice as calm as I could make it. "Levi, I don't know why the College failed you."
"I'm sorry, Z. I shouldn't have yelled at you." His voice was calmer, but he was still shaking.
"It's okay, Levi."
Oh, for frak's sake. REAL PEOPLE DO NOT TALK LIKE THIS. I don't repeat the names of persons I'm talking to in a group situation, much less one on one. Zaniel's and Jamie's scenes are the worst offenders, as the pages and pages of bad dialogue and endless Z/Levi/Levanael/Jamie go on till I wanted to scream. I started wondering, has Hamilton always had this horrible tic, and I just didn't notice it? I thought about flipping through my Anita Blake paperbacks to find out, but stopped myself. I have a sneaking suspicion the Suck Fairy may have paid them an extended visit, and I don't want to spoil what pleasant memories I have left.
After the bloated center of the book (which I can't believe the editor didn't insist on chopping out), the action finally picks up again as Zaniel hunts the murderous demon down. (This is supposed to be a murder mystery, but due to the bad plotting, there is precious little "mystery" to it. We know who--if not quite what--the murderer is. There aren't any clues or red herrings, and no real sleuthing to be found.) After more extended, useless, distracting conversations with random women, Zaniel and the demon have it out. At the book's climax there is a reveal that Hamilton basically ignores, but which seems to me (again with the bad plotting) should be vastly more important to the story: this demon is half human, unable to be manipulated by the thoughts of humans around it, and can torture its former human body's Guardian Angel. These little anomalies are played up throughout the story, proclaimed to be "impossible" more than once, and entirely dropped at the book's end. Really? The author didn't think her Angel Speaker detective should spend a little more time on that?
This book saddens me, because by the time I got to the end, I had the firm impression that someone--the publisher, the editor, or the author herself--thinks that Hamilton is Too Big To Edit, much to the book's detriment. If there ever was a book that needed a red pen--nay, a red axe--taken to it, it is this one. The only reason I finished it is because much to my relief, the bad and long-drawn-out sex scenes that ruined the Anita Blake series are absent. I shall now return it to the library, and at least as far as this author is concerned, I shall never fall prey to nostalgia again.
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