Susan Ee’s Angelfall reads a lot like it’s the love-child of The Walking Dead and the biblical mythology found in Supernatural. Set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco where angels have virtually destroyed our world, it follows the story of Penryn Young. Even at the young age of seventeen, Penryn finds herself responsible for her family, which consists of a younger sister who is paralyzed and cannot walk, and a mother who is mentally unfit to take care of her children. The world is a cruel place: humans do not help each other, plundering and murder are everyday realities, and who do you put your faith in if God’s creatures are the ones wreaking havoc on our planet? When Penryn’s sister is kidnapped by a group of angels, she finds herself forming a shaky alliance with Raffe, an angel who seems to be the outcast among the others. Relying on him, Penryn sets out in this perilous world to find her sister.
Angelfall is a book that has infinitesimal potential. It is dark and legitimately terrifying- so much so that I often found myself wondering how it’s categorized as YA. Cannibalism, mutilation, and horrific violence are portrayed in such vivid detail- it is disturbing. But that’s what makes it such an effective dystopian. Susan Ee isn’t afraid to take risks, both with the content and the subject matter. Villain-izing angels is bound to be a controversial issue, yet she does it. Such graphic violence is bound to evoke cries of outrage, but she does it. The effect is a fascinating, thought-provoking read that is perhaps the real-est depiction of an apocalypse I’ve read in the YA genre.
But while the potential was there, much of it fell flat. Two species going head-to-head, one vastly stronger than the other: what does that give a writer the opportunity to do? There should have been so much strategizing in this novel, so much complex planning, organization and tactics. Politics, alliances, deceit, betrayals- yet, none of those things existed, which leads me to wonder: if this were reality, humans would stand no chance. This realization made the world-building unbelievable, which is why I wasn’t invested in the fate of the human race. Things just didn’t add up.
Individually, both characters were likable enough. Raffe, especially, is such a refreshing combination of the bad-boy persona with a sensitive interior, the brooding hero with a complex, shaded past. Perfectly balanced- the result is a likable, unproblematic dude who will most definitely make my book-boyfriends list.
“My friends call me Wrath,” says Raffe. “My enemies call me Please Have Mercy. What’s your name, soldier boy?”
But when Raffe and Penryn are put together, it’s questionable. Raffe and Penryn, while ridiculously entertaining in their sharp banter towards each other, are complete opposites. Apart from spending a ton of time together and becoming allies, there is no reason for them to like each other. Now, I enjoy a forbidden inter-species romance as much as anyone else- it’s awesome to see these characters try to resolve their dissonance to try to make things work, while maintaining what they believe in. But for this to happen, I need to see a spark. There was a ton of foreshadowing that these two would be romantically involved, yet I didn’t see that spark until the very end.
In fact, I wasn’t enjoying the novel at all until at least the 80% mark, but when it hit, things began to soar. The climax was wonderfully carried out- there was just the right amount of action, the beginnings of a larger plot coming into play, and a game-changer with regards to our characters; I found myself excited for the next installment. From here, Susan Ee can do wonders with the series IF the appropriate attention is given to the complexities of the world and the conflict at play, as well as the slow-burn feelings of our characters.