Angelfall – Susan Ee

angelfall“It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back. Anything, including making a deal with Raffe, an injured enemy angel. Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco, where Penryn will risk everything to rescue her sister and Raffe will put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.”

When I opened my review copy of Angelfall, I was not prepared for the story I found. Dystopian fiction, now a wide-ranging genre that dominates the young adult market, tends to be either love-based (Matched by Allie Condie, Lauren Oliver’s Pandemonium series) or slightly more brutal (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins). But I was not expecting a story as raw, as vivid or as horrific, in places, as Angelfall was. And that’s by no means an insult; I realise now that I’ve grown used to slighty watered-down fiction, whereas this dystopian tale is by no means diulted.

The story opens up on Penryn and her mentally ill mother making their way down a street with Penryn’s disabled sister, Paige. Earth is in tatters, after angels – basically muscular, strong, self-healing (think Wolverine from X-Men) demigods – have descended on Earth and wreaked vengeance on the human world. All Penryn wants to do is find shelter, but her plan is ruined when she sees a group of angels attack one of their kind, by doing the worst thing imaginable – cutting off his wings. Penryn seals her and her family’s fate when she goes to help Raffe – the injured angel – and in revenge, the group carry off Paige, whilst her mother flees. Distraught and determined to find her, she plans on blackmailing Raffe with his now-discarded wings to lead her to the angel’s aerie, so she can rescue her baby sister. Penryn can’t find her mother, but she’s not too worried; she knows that the sometimes demonically twisted woman she grew up with can fend for herself.

Penryn and Raffe embark on a somewhat tempestuous partnership. All Penryn wants is her sister back; all Raffe wants is his wings sewn back on so that he can become an angel again. Together they fight against the new dog-eat-dog world that meets them – they are captured and imprisoned by a group of human resistance fighters, hell-bent on wreaking revenge on the angels. Raffe, whilst strong and able to take care of Penryn, must conceal his true identity from the humans. Penryn, whilst weaker and more vulnerable, is the only one who can help Raffe get his wings back – and save him when he’s imprisoned again, without her.

Against all odds, they reach the aerie. But what is waiting for them there neither of them expects. Raffe, coming face to face with some angels who betrayed him in the past and led him to his current fate, is double-crossed by the only woman who can re-attach his wings to his body. Penryn, deep in the angels’ stronghold, searches for her baby sister, but when she finds her she’s horrified by the sight that greets her. It’s clear that her family are never going to be the same, and neither is her world…

A review falls short when trying to summarise this story. It’s more explicit, vivid, gritty and evocative than any book I’ve read for a long time. Bordering in places on horror, Angelfall can by no means be described as simply sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal/dystopian fiction. It’s a book that is both horrifying and spellbinding; I’ve not come across any authors with Susan Ee’s unique storytelling method before but the story reminded me in many places of Francis Lawrence’s Constantine. It’s simply admirable how much Susan has actually held back for the second and third books in the trilogy; hardly any of Raffe’s or the angels’ back story has been explored, and I am utterly convinced that the next two books will both be as transfixing as Angelfall. It’s a book that defies the labels and boundaries of its genre, and a wonderfully spine-chilling read.

Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for the review copy.

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