Note: There are some very small spoilers for Book One (plus a whited-out section with a bigger, but not the biggest spoiler), and no spoilers for Book Two.
Angelology begins in Milton, NY at St. Rose Convent. Sister Evangeline is 23; she has been living there since she was 12, and took her vows at age 18. She works in the library, handling the correspondence. Her days have been fairly routine until now, but on the day the book opens, December 23, 1999, she receives a letter from a V.A. Verlaine, inquiring about a possible connection between a prior abbess of the convent and Abigail Aldrich Rockefeller, the famous (real-life) philanthropist of the arts.
We quickly get enmeshed in a Dan Brown-sort of thriller, featuring theological mysteries that are derived from angelology, the study of angels and their presence on earth throughout history. We are reminded that the presence on earth of “Nephilim,” or half-angels, half-humans, was described at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 6:
“The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose,” and when “they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”
As the story progresses we learn how the history of the Nephilim became interwoven with the myth of Orpheus, among other myths; all of these stories are purported in the book to have had a basis in fact. As one of the angelologists explains in a clever implied repost to positivists:
“Whereas angels were once the epitome of beauty and goodness, now, in our time, they are irrelevant. Materialism and science have banished them to nonexistence, a sphere as indeterminate as purgatory. It used to be that humanity believed in angels implicitly, intuitively, not with our minds but with our very souls. Now we need proof. We need material, scientific data that will verify without a doubt their reality. Yet what a crisis would occur if the proof existed! What would happen, do you suppose, if the material existence of angels could be verified?”
Since the publishers tell you on the blurbs and by virtue of the cover picture itself that the Nephilim exist, it won’t be spoilery to reveal that Evangeline and Vervaine get involved in a life-or-death struggle with these creatures, who are not interested in having their secrets uncovered. In fact, it is the Nephilim, so the angelologists contend, who promulgated atheism, so that people will not suspect the extent to which humans are not, in fact, free of the nefarious intervention of Nephilim into their affairs.
This trope works well enough for most of the book, since there is enough similarity to the real world to make the story seem clever and entertaining. Toward the end though, a few sharks get jumped, in part, one supposes, to spur the reader on to read the next installment. I will let Jim (who also read the first book) explain his main objection to one of the “jumped sharks” in a white font so that it will not be spoilery. You can mouse over it to see what he says:
When in dire straits, one of the humans resorts to a “summoning,” that is, a calling to the Archangel Michael for assistance. Sure enough, if you perform the proper incantations exactly correctly (but not otherwise) the Top Archangel himself shows up to help. But first he asks the summoner if she is pure of heart. Assured by her own testimony that she is pure of heart, Michael disposes of more than a hundred of the villains by well-directed bolts of fire in a scene that suggests a Gattling gun with individually targeted bullets. This violated a bunch of premises not only pertinent to the plot but central to theology. Do prayers have no force or meaning? Why would Michael (or God for that matter) allow all the other horrible things in earthy history (many of which, according to these books, were carried out or caused to be carried out by Nephilim) to happen without intervention, but will come down for an instant rescue in response to a witchcraft-like ritual? Haven’t other implorers of divine intervention been pure of heart? And how is Michael, a presumably non-omnipotent creature (in this book, even God is not omnipotent), certain that this person is pure, just because she says so? And would he allow an unjust slaughter of other innocents to proceed if she weren’t totally pure? There was just too much there for me that strained credulity, even for a “fantasy.” That, by the way, is not the end of the story nor the end of the surprises, but is just a Second-to-Deus Ex Machina that allows the rest of the story to proceed….
[Full disclosure: The Archangel Michael is my name-day saint.]
The second book, Angelopolis, picks up ten years after the first has finished. Book Two takes us to Siberia, in Russia, to a secret installation where many different types of angels are in residence, willingly or no. Once again, there is a life-and-death race to recover artistic artifacts that have a bearing on the survival of the Nephilim versus human beings.
Discussion: I like how the author interweaves history, art, myth, and music into her stories. How can you not be fascinated by the history of Faberge Eggs? [If you don’t know about them or have never seem images of them, be sure and check out this slide show and brief history here. While the Russian peasants starved, workers toiled on such delights as a perfect miniature replica of the Coronation carriage that took 15 months to make working 16-hour days. To give you an idea of their worth, the most expensive egg would cost almost $3 million in today’s money.]
Trussoni even throws in some Velikovsky-like scientific theories, including the quite recent studies by Ryan and Pittman, that have argued for geological evidence substantiating the events in the Bible.
It was also interesting to see how Trussoni based the plot on an extremely literal and anthropomorphic interpretation of the Bible. Of course, there are probably more competing interpretations of the Bible than there are actual people in the world. Nevertheless, when you opt for the Vengeful God and Evil Angels version of the Bible, it seems to me that you need to have your characters also account for divergence from metaphysical doctrines such as omnipotence (clearly not a Divine attribute in this series), forgiveness, redemption, and maybe the whole Sermon on the Mount. (Jesus and associated ethics of love and morality generally do not play a role in these two books. The author supplements mostly Old Testament passages with some from the Apocrypha and other non-canonical works, such as the Book of Enoch.)
I do think Trussoni does a nice job with the theological arguments she does tackle, and the thriller aspect of the book is well-done.
I have some small quibbles with the books, however. The ending of the first, meant to be an irresistible spur to read the second, contains a sort of “diabolus ex machina” (i.e., the opposite of a “deus ex machina”) that didn’t seem entirely consistent with what we had been told previously. [Note: This is not the same objection Jim had in the whited-out section, above, but it is sort of a mirror image!]
In the second book, the author has major “As You Know Bob” problems. [This is a popular name for a poor execution of the trope by which a writer uses exposition to fill in background for the readers, also known as an “infodump”. In this case, the author is trying to let us know what happened in Book One. The “As You Know Bob” fallacy takes the form of one character explaining to another something that they both already know, but the readers don’t. Since they do both already know it, long explanations about it can seem ridiculous, if not insulting to the character on the receiving end of the monologue.]
I also agree with the problem referred to in the review by Beth Fish Reads, which is that the very end of the Second Book, like the end of the first, was just not consistent with everything else we had been led to believe. Once again, it seemed more like a bomb dropping out of nowhere to keep us eager for the next book, rather than like something we might expect from the action preceding it. Writing a good cliff-hanger ending is an art, to be sure, but undermining the premises preceding it does not usually go down well with readers.
Finally, I think in the second book the author got a little too “cute” with her revelations of all the historical figures who were actually Nephilim.
Evaluation: These small quibbles that I had should not deter you from enjoying these fast-paced, intellectually-stimulating thrillers. Seven publishing houses vied for the rights to the first book, and two motion picture companies bid for the film rights.
Angelogy is published by Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA), 2010
Angelopolis is published by Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA), 2013