The Once Upon a Time Challenge continues and I’m enjoying it immensely. The fifth book I’ve read for the challenge is Angelology and even though it’s over six hundred pages it was a pleasure to get myself lost in the story.
A young nun with an interesting family heirloom – a golden lyre pendant, an angel whose wings are marred by decay, a young man with ambition in his heart, and a secret that will bring them together and change their lives.
The story begins in the winter of 1945, when a group of angelologists find a most unusual body in a cave in the mountains of Bulgaria. It is an angel, perfectly preserved, as if he had just lain down to sleep moments ago. How that is possible is not explained right away but towards the end of the book the mystery is revealed.
Back in our days, we find out the story of Evangeline, a young girl growing up in Saint Rose Convent in New York. Her parents are dead, and she only has a lyre pendant and an old journal to remind her of them. She thinks her life will probably be spent among the nuns, but fate has other plans. In the convent library she finds mysterious letters, and when a young man named Verlaine comes to the convent and starts asking questions, things get interesting. Verlaine is working for Percival Grigori, heir to a famous angel family; Percival’s health is deteriorating and his once majestic wings are now reduced to stubs. He’s searching for a cure, a “celestial instrument” that is rumored to have the power to restore his magnificent wings back to their former glory. Celestine and Verlaine join forces, as it seems they have a common quest, but the discoveries they make threaten their lives and finally reveal the secret that Evangeline’s family had kept for a long time.
This book is a beautiful lesson in angel lore. Detailed descriptions of these magnificent creatures appear throughout the book, as the story of how they came to live among the mortals is explained. Mythology and religion are also mixed in the story, going back to the days when the sons of God noticed the beauty of the daughters of men and decided to take wives from them. This act results in punishment, as the fallen angels are cast into a deep cave, there to await the day of retribution. But they are trying to escape, and their descendants, the Nephilim, have grown powerful. Their influence is linked to major events in human history – the rise and fall of dynasties, the birth of science, the promotion of materialism, all this done to manipulate in order to control the people. The angelologists are their enemies, trained to protect the human race from falling prey to these ambitious creatures. It is a good versus evil battle, and the discovery of the famous celestial instrument could tip the balance.
The amount of research gone into the construction of this story must have been substantial. References include the myth of Orpheus, Noah’s story, the Sator-Rotas Latin palindrome (“a square used in angelology to signify that a pattern is present”) and various other biblical and mythological stories. I was impressed by the seamless way they were incorporated in the story, and captivated by the details.
I always find the names fascinating in a story and often wonder at their meaning – in this novel it’s quite obvious they are chosen to fit in with the theme: Evangeline, Angela, Celestine, Gabriella, Seraphina, Raphael.
Woven in this otherwise academic tale there’s also a great love story whose consequences reach deep across generations and gives the whole thing a more human flavor. My only issue was with the ending – it seems a little forced, as if nearing the grand finale the author wanted to make sure the reader is hooked into buying the sequel. Until then I had no idea this was just the first novel but my curiosity overcame this little annoyance and I would very much like to read what happens in the second volume called Angelopolis, although I suspect it’s not going to be as good as this one.
Some of my favorite passages:
Of course, they have also done a marvelous job of separating the intellectuals from the religious. They have made sure that humanity will not have another Newton or Copernicus, thinkers who revere both Science and God. Atheism was their greatest invention. Darwin’s work, despite the man’s extreme dependence upon religion, was twisted and propagated by them. The Nephilim have succeeded in making people believe that humanity is self generated, self-sufficient, free of the divine, sui generis. It is an illusion that makes our work much more difficult and their detection nearly impossible.
Addressing the creatures, his voice became commanding, as if speaking to animals. ‘Devils,’ he said.
This drove one of the male creatures from his lethargy. He wrapped his white fingers around the bars of the cage and pulled himself to full height. ‘Angel and devil,’ he said. ‘One is but a shade of the other.’
Their bodies were exceedingly lovely, so sensuous that a shock of longing passed through her. Yet even through the haze of her desire, Evangeline found that everything about them – from the way they stood to the immense span of their wings – struck her as monstrous.
My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in April, 2014