Like many other readers, I felt burned out by the onslaught of copycat young adult dystopias, fantasies, and paranormal romances, but I heard this series was exceptionally good, so I decided to plunge back into the genre. Indeed, it was entertaining enough that I avidly raced through all three books.
The series starts with Angelfall. Instead of the bizarre trope often used in YA books that has an angel or two coming to Earth and going to high school, this one begins quite differently. A whole slew of angels has come to Earth and triggered an apocalypse. (Eventually we find out why that happened.)
The books are narrated by Penryn Young, 17, who may have been a typical California girl in “The World Before,” but who now is trying to ensure the survival of her remaining family – seven-year-old Paige, who is a paraplegic, and their paranoid-schizophrenic mother. In “The World After” as Penryn calls it, rival gangs and apocalypse cults control goods and services, and the streets are dangerous, especially for the occasional angel who gets caught there and attacked for body parts that can be sold or traded.
While trying to get her family to a safer place, Penryn encounters a group of angels fighting each other, with five against one. The larger group slices off the wings of the angel being attacked, and they leave him to die. On the way out, one of the group grabs Paige and takes her with him.
Penryn is desperate to get Paige back, and feels that her only hope is to help the downed angel and get him to take her to wherever the angels would have taken Paige. She hides him and helps him heal; he tells her his name is Raffe (Rah-fie). In fact, as she eventually learns, he is the Archangel Raphael.
When Raffe is able, Penryn and Raffe – in disguise – join the human resistance and penetrate the angel aerie in an attempt to get Paige back. What they discover in the aerie changes all of them, both physically and psychologically.
Spoilers Ahead for the previous book!
World After begins immediately after the end of Angelfall. [Note to readers: if you are interested in this trilogy, obtain all three books so you can read them together.]
Penryn recovers from being paralyzed by the scorpion creatures created at the angels’ aerie, and together with her mom and the surgically-altered Paige, they return to the resistance camp. In the midst of a disturbance, they are locked up, but escape from the camp, only to be captured by the angels and taken to the aerie on Alcatraz Island.
Eventually Penryn and Raffe come together again, and Penryn questions Raffe about the bad things the other angels have said about him:
Penryn: “‘You’re not Fallen, are you?’ The question pops out of my mouth before my head can censor it.”
Raffe: “From everything I’ve heard, that would just make me more sexy to you Daughters of Men. . . . What is it that you all see in bad boys?”
This repartee is typical of the humor (and meta-humor) in the books, as well as showing the easy relationship between Penryn and Raffe. In a further great moment in dialogue, Penryn and Raffe pretend to talk about how Raffe feels about his sword, when they are really talking about how they feel about each other.
Toward the end of the book, a big fight for power breaks out, and while Raffe is battling the fallen angel Beliel along with hellions and scorpions, Penryn takes on the angel who was one of the gang that attacked Raffe and who kidnapped Paige. Using Raffe’s sword, Penryn kills him. The surprising ending that follows starts “a new day in the World After.”
Spoilers Ahead for the previous books!
The End of Days picks up right where World After ended. Little Paige seems to have command of the scorpions (now identified as locusts). In this book we also find out more about the Watchers, the elite group of angel warriors originally under Raffe’s command, but who fell from grace for falling in love with Daughters of Men. To Penryn’s surprise, she learns that Beliel, now the sworn enemy of Raffe, was one of these Watchers.
But Raffe and Penryn have even more enemies now. As Raffe explains:
“Aside from the usual suspects, the entire host of angels saw you with me when I cut the wings off Beliel. They think you’re traveling in the company of a mask-wearing ‘demon’ who cuts wings off ‘angels.’ That’s enough to come after you, if only to find me. Besides, you’re an angel killer now, for which the penalty is an automatic death sentence. You’re quite the popular girl.”
The author injects her sense of humor in this and so many other exchanges, from Penryn’s own thoughts (“I shut my eyes in utter humiliation. How can the world end in a giant fury of biblical proportions yet still leave room for embarrassment?”) to much of the conversation between Penryn and Raffe. For example, Penryn thinks she is safe because she doesn’t think angels can tell humans apart. In fact, she tells Raffe, she has a hard time telling angels apart, because “They’re all so darned perfect in every way … If it wasn’t for you, I’d think that angels were all totally interchangeable”:
Raffe: “You mean because I’m beyond perfect?”
Penryn: “No. Because you’re so humble.”
Raffe: “Humility’s overrated.”
Penryn: “So is clear self-assessment, apparently.”
Raffe: “Real warriors don’t stand for psychobabble.”
In spite of the obvious attraction between Penryn and Raffe, Raffe tells Penryn he can’t allow himself to get distracted by a Daughter of Man; as an Archangel, he has responsibilities to the angel world. Nevertheless, he is of course distracted, as is Penryn, who muses:
“He’s right. We’re at war. On the verge of an apocalypse filled with monsters and torture in a nightmare world. And I’m standing here, a moonstruck teenager pining for an enemy soldier. What am I, crazy?”
But struggling with their feelings has to be deferred when Penryn is captured by people interested in the angel bounty on her head, and she is taken to the new angel aerie in Half Moon Bay. There, she discovers there is an election going on for the new Messenger of God, to replace Gabriel who was killed at the start of the apocalypse. The evil angel Uriel is running against Michael and Raphael. Raffe challenges Uriel to a dual, and they each get to pick a team of supporting warriors. Unfortunately Raphael’s Watchers aren’t around; they are in The Pit, awaiting Judgment Day.
But as usual, Penryn comes up with a fix, and the clash between the forces of good and evil commences.
Evaluation: These books are page-turning fun. Not all of the plot threads hold up under the scrutiny of reason, but I didn’t care at all. The characterization is excellent, with Penryn and especially her sister and mother being totally unique, unexpected heroines. I found the author’s imagination and sense of humor delightful.
Angelfall published by Amazon Publishing, 2012
World After published by Skyscape, 2013
The End of Days Published by Skyscape, 2015