Saturday, May 22

Angelica - Sharon Shinn

Almost two hundred years ago, so legend has it, the god Jovah carried the settlers of Samaria from a world torn apart by war and technology to safety. To ensure the same fate doesn't befall them, the peoples of Samaria must meet once a year on a great plain and, led by the archangel and the angelica (the archangel's spouse), sing to Jovah. Jovah, through his oracles, names each archangel and nominates his or her angelica - a person who compensates for the weaknesses of the archangel, making them a better leader and a better person.
For as long as she can remember, Susannah si Tachita has dreamed of an immensely large and unfamiliar cool, light, white and silver place where a disembodied voice knows her and speaks to her, most often in a language she can't understand. Susannah is Edori - her people roam across the continent of Samaria in family bands, carrying all their possessions. Susannah only recently moved from her home tribe of the Morosta to the Tachita clan, primarily because of Dathan. Though they are lovers, she knows he's not faithful to her in his heart nor, she suspects, in his flesh, and she's as yet unwilling to bear a child with him, but she loves him.
Even before he was named Archangel, Gaaron was a leader of his people, thanks in equal part to his personality and the frustrated training of his father, an agel who always hoped and expected to be named archangel. Dependable, reliable and worthy, Gaaron is used to being respected and his opinion heard. When Mahala tells him Jovah has named an Edori woman as his Angelica he is surprised, though not as surprised as when he meets Susannah, a woman who turns every aspect of his life on its head.
Chronologically the first thus far in the Samaria series, Angelica is the fourth published novel set on this beautifully crafted world. There are several, intertwined plots that beautifully mesh both with one another and with the subtle but definitive world building. These include Gaaron's relationship with his human half-sister Miriam (which is a portrait of adolescent rebellion, rejection of authority, the effects of distorted parenting, and tension between protection and smothering); a parallel but similar tale of a rebellious Edori girl; Susannah's conflict between marrying a good man but loving a more flawed man; oracle Mahala's suspisions about the true nature of the god, which is echoed throughout the series; a slowly-building romance between Susannah and Gaaron; and the devastating destruction of camps by mysterious, fire-wielding black men who vanish without a trace. And threaded through the narrative is a dominant theme of sacrificing ones' own needs for the interests of the community.
I have unsuccessfully tried before to do justice to Shinn's writing, both in this and the Twelve Houses series. I like the way she shows without ever telling, how the text balances plot with character development, the naturalness of the dialogue and the depth of the characters. I am never jerked out of reading by clumsy phrasing or a character's incongruous behaviour, yet Shinn eschews the obvious while maintaining believability. And my attempts to pace myself with her writing are ever less successful. - Alex

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