Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni

Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni
The characters I know and loathe
are at it again in Angelopolis.
If you read this blog regularly, you know that the first book in this series, Angelology, earned my undying loathing for its failure to capitalize on a near-brilliant premise. Well, that and some of the worst writing I've ever read in a book praised by everyone from the New York Times to USA Today. Clearly there was some Kool-Aid going around and everyone became insane for a brief period of time in 2010.  

Well, this time I was much smarter about things. I didn't spend my own money--I patronized my local library. There's one more sliver of good news here: I didn't loathe it quite as much as the first one. If the first book received a grade of F from me, this one's a D.  It might just be because instead of 450 mind-numbing anger-inducing pages, this one's a scant 300. Let's see how it shakes down, shall we?

Spoiler-free summary:
The heroine of the last book, Evangeline, is an angel (we learned this at the very end of Angelology). Verlaine, her love interest, has become an angel hunter and spent the last 10 years looking for her. Yes, we have jumped 10 years forward in time. Why? God knows. Two or three years would probably have sufficed. Verlaine and Evangeline have a brief run-in that convinces Verlaine he is in love with her. Evangeline is kidnapped by another angel, working for the Grigori family (angel bad guys), but not before she slips Verlaine a Faberge egg. Verlaine and Bruno, his angel hunting mentor, must figure out what the egg means and where Evangeline has been taken.

WTF spoiler-filled summary:
drawing of the Panopticon
Grad school asshats
always mention the Panopticon
when they want to seem smart.
The angels are trying to build themselves a city and take over the planet. Apparently, some Nephilim descendants used to give birth by laying eggs. People came out of these eggs, I shit you not.  Egg births have become quite rare, although they are desirable for the higher-quality angelic offspring they produce.  Queen Victoria is a Nephilim descendant and, by extension, Empress Alexandra of Russia. Alexandra had an egg birth that occurred during what history has recorded as a phantom pregnancy. Alexandra was actually impregnated by the archangel Gabriel and so the resulting egg-child (Lucien) is of a purer angelic strain than ordinary Nephilim. There is some huge angel prison in Siberia, modeled after the Panopticon of Jeremy Bentham. It blows up in the end. Oh, and there's an angel vaccination of sorts, which could turn an angel or a Nephilim human again.  It can only be made once due to the rarity of one of its ingredients. The angel hunters made it, and Verlaine hands it over to Evangeline, thinking she will quaff it, but no, she steals it and leaves to hang out with Lucien, who is actually her father. Verlaine gets pissed and instantly wants to kill her (again). He gets voted as the leader of the next round of angel/Nephilim resistance fighters. The end. My head hurts.

Things that Didn't Suck

1. Angelopolis was shorter than the first book.  This represents an attempt on the author's part to keep the plot more tightly controlled. It also meant the whole thing gets over with faster.   

2. The Romanovs were peripheral characters. Ideas that link real people and historical events to mythological events are cool.

3. It created some interesting mythology about the Biblical flood, Noah, the Ark's location, and what exactly got preserved on that Ark. Those are all the nice things I can think of to say.

Things that Sucked

1. The author still seems to believe that long-winded explanations and backstory and plot setup can take up 70% of a book without the reader getting bored. It is DISASTROUS. In the quote below, a co-worker of Dr. Azov, an angelologist, asks a visiting angelologist named Vera if she needs a refresher on the kind of work Azov does before meeting the good doctor:  
"No need," Vera said. "I know that Azov has occupied the center on St. Ivan Island for over three decades--since before I was born. His outpost was created in the early eighties, when a body of research pointed to the presence of well-preserved artifacts under the Black Sea. Before this, angelologists stationed in Bulgaria worked near the Devil's Throat in the Rhodope mountain chain, where they monitored the buildup of nephilim and, of course, acted as a barrier should the Watchers escape." (p 136)
Holy mother of God, if the answer to someone's question is a simple "no," just say "no."  

2. The dialogue is tragic. It's artificial at best, and often used to deliver complicated history lessons. This makes the characters themselves seem even more wooden than they actually are. Here's one stellar example of tragic dialogue:
"Absolutely certain," he said. "And I'm not the only one--an angelologist is hunting her at this very moment. An angel hunter." 
How could we fail to be aware of the fact that an ANGELOLOGIST who is HUNTING her is an angel hunter?  At what point in the second sentence is this unclear enough to need a third?

Image of the Joker from Batman writing "Why so serious?" in blood
3. The tone and sentence structure never change. A five-page digression into angelology and a motorcycle action scene are treated exactly the same way, and this does a disservice to the few action scenes. It gives the book a plodding feel. 

4. There is no humor whatsoever. This series takes it itself so goddamn seriously.  Even books and shows that deal with the end of the world need a little humor. Supernatural does this amazingly well.  You can't have DANGER DANGER BIBLICAL WEIRDNESS RASPUTIN DANGER LECTURE ON BIBLICAL WEIRDNESS OMG WORLD ENDING PANOPTICON THE END without a moment or two of levity. People are not robots. I found myself seeking an escape from this book, which is theoretically entertainment, and thus supposed to be an escape. Epic fail.   

5. The characters are flat. They aren't allowed to do or say anything except spout Trussoni's "big ideas" about history and angelology. They don't have favorite foods or favorite colors or get bitten by bugs or hate their shoes or express real-life opinions about anything non plot-related. They don't have thoughts about past loves or wives or girlfriends or boyfriends or past experiences that reveal who they are. They are plot devices, not people. This is the closest to characterization you get:
He would be forty-three years old in less than a week and he was in the best condition of his life, able to run for miles without breaking a sweat.  (p 35)
6.  The writing is flat.  Everything is told, never shown. We are simply told what characters feel. They do not express it or show it. It gets boring. So very boring. Apparently, Trussoni graduated from the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Coulda fooled me.
"You want to re-create paradise," Angela said, astonished.
Someone who's good at writing wouldn't have needed to explain the bad guy's shtick, and could have used a gesture or body language to convey said astonishment. Here's another awesome example:
There was a rusty Zid motorcycle parked nearby, its wires hanging loose. The engine was vastly different from his Ducati, but in a matter of seconds, he'd hot-wired the bike, thrown his leg over the leather seat, and was speeding after Eno. (p 125)
Hmm. In addition to the multiple "was" verb forms making this theoretically exciting chase scene boring, this passage begs several logistical questions. If Verlaine has a Ducati, how is he intimately familiar with the workings of a Zid engine? What the hell are the wires doing hanging loose in the first place?  Wouldn't the owner, like, I don't know, fix that shit?  And how, pray tell, does one hot-wire a motorcycle? A bit of authenticity here would have helped. At least YouTube it and try and find out how it's done.
As Verlaine followed Angela's movements, he realized that his entire body had gone rigid. (p 82)
In the above, why wouldn't you simply say, "Verlane's body went rigid"? All of the "following" and "realizing" dilute the power of the physical effect Trussoni is trying to create. This is bush league, people.
From the way she looked at him, he could feel her rage. (p 178)
And again, we have the bush league version of telling, not showing.  How did she look up at him? What was in her eyes, in her body language?

7.  Some of the facts are not right.
Could have been a simple typo, but the book gives 1917 as the Romanov execution year. Nope.  Also, when mentioning the Romanov execution, she talks about them going out "into the cold."  Um, it was July. And hot as Hades. Not sure anything would have been cold. Minor quibbles, I know, but they exist.

desk flip rage because of how incredibly bad Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni is
I give up. I fucking give up.
8. The sheer ridiculosity of the egg birth thing. I just don't buy it.  Nephilim lay eggs?  Like, an egg actually grows in the woman and she gives birth to it?  Does it then hatch immediately?  Or does it friggin' incubate in a bassinet? And I'm supposed to believe Peter the Great came out of an egg?  All Trussoni says is, "...how such a birth had come to pass was never documented" (p 221). Wow, convenient, huh? But if the ranks of European royalty are littered with Nephilim, what happened in the days when many royal births were public? Did the woman know in advance whether she'd give birth to an egg or a baby?  How could all the ladies-in-waiting and midwives who were present at egg births throughout history have been silenced? This just has too many logistical weirdnesses to it.  I can't suspend my disbelief that far. And who said angels have egg babies? They aren't birds.  Birds evolved from dinosaurs. Did angels evolve from dinosaurs, too? Again, I am confused.  If the author has thought through the answers to these questions, they need to be shared.  In a way that doesn't involve eight pages of lecturing dialogue. But this is what we get:
Verlaine stole a look at Vera, wondering how all of this was striking her. It seemed that her dubious theories about Easter eggs and royal egg births could be supported by the tsarina's collection. (p 104) 
WTF? Because the Romanovs had Faberge eggs, they MUST be nephilim?  I have a carving of an elephant on my bookshelf.  Does that mean I'm half pachyderm?

9.  The sheer ridiculosity of the idea that Empress Alexandra and her daughters had wings. That she taught them to fly on lazy afternoons in the Crimea. I mean, really.  If anyone had wings, it would have been Felix Yussupov, right?  And isn't it extremely likely that some one in the Romanov entourage would have seen crap like this?  Again, how were these witnesses silenced? Even when on "vacation" at Livadia in the Crimea, there was still an enormous household of servants, tutors, cooks, ladies in waiting, and friends.  It strains credulity that this could have happened. And let's think a little harder about this...if they did have wings, how likely is it that they would have been held prisoner for so long?  Especially toward the end, after the rescue attempt failed?  Couldn't they have flown away from the Ipatiev house?  It boggles the mind. But, no, in the author's world, this is legit:
She spent hours grooming her great pink wings. She would use her leisure time teaching her daughters to fly in the private garden of their country estate in the Crimea. (p 112)
10. I'm still not clear on *why* the archangel Gabriel chose to impregnate Alexandra. What was so important about that time, that situation? It's important for the world-building and mythology, but it was glossed over.  I mean, why not impregnate Anne Boleyn?  Surely she prayed just as hard for a son as Alexandra. What was so important about Alexandra and Russia and that moment in time?  We are never told. 

11.  Trussoni is incredibly bad at building a believable relationship. Verlaine and Evangline are cardboard characters, so it's impossible to take them seriously when they try to feel things.  Like love.  Verlaine runs the gamut from "I hate her, I want to kill her" to "Maybe she's not so bad" to "I freakin' love her" to "I hate that bitch."  The words fly out of his mouth and it feels random because there is no establishment of his emotional history.  Here's the big moment when Evangeline and Verlaine have some Jedi mind-meld moment of togetherness as they escape from danger:
He was sure that all of the thoughts and all of the desires that he'd ever felt had collected in his heart at that moment. (p 290)
So glad he's sure.  Wouldn't want any of those stray, unnamed thoughts or desires getting away from him now.

12. The number of times she uses the phrase "as if" to describe things that are happening is staggering.  Witness the following examples: 
The entire structure had the appearance of a ruin, the light fixtures crude, as if the building had been wired for only the most basic functionality." (p 151)
 It was as if they all felt that a solution was possible, that once they made it to Valko they would overcome the seemingly impossible odds. (p 175)
 ...a second blast of searing heat seized her, this one more intensely painful than the first, as if her skin had been peeled away in one clean sweep. (p 258)
...the moment Vera woke it seemed to her that she had died and emerged on the other side of existence, as if Charon had in fact taken her across the deathly river Styx to the banks of hell. (p 258)
Her body felt stiff and hot, as if she had been dipped in wax. (p 258)

The Takeaway
This book is a flop. There is no deft or beautiful language, no metaphor, nothing of note linguistically. It's just a weird-ass confusing story, told with little grace or charm and absolutely no hint of humor or spark or real life.