October 04, 2010

Review: Angel Time

Angel Time (The Songs of the Seraphim, #1)Angel Time by Anne Rice

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love reading Anne Rice'sbooks, but I'm not unaware of her faults, especially in the books written in the past decade. Like a great many of her books, Angel Time starts off painfully slowly, and I almost gave up during a long, boring flashback to the protagonist's past, which was written (purposefully, I believe) in the most generalized and impersonal manner possible. The first half of the book was a tedious slog, first detailing the alienated life of a young, successful hitman (written as an account of intense loves and hates like those of a cocaine addict's), then nearly coming to a screeching halt in the neutral recitation of his history from the POV of an angel. I cannot emphasize enough how boring this flashback is -- it's pure exposition, while seemingly constructing an idealized, somewhat unbelievable character off the cuff.

But I kept going, because I've come to expect from Anne Rice that she will make something of her tiresome setup and suddenly soar. She's done this many times in previous books, particularly in her novel The Tale of the Body Thief. . . she drags the reader through seemingly endless fictional apparatus, and then open up into a fascinating tale of something ecstatic and otherworldly. Which is what she does here, too. The protagonist reconciles with a visiting angel, and becomes his human vessel on Earth, whenever he's needed in time.

So suddenly the protagonist has a religious conversion (naturally, given Rice's own return to Christianity this decade), and is sent back to Norwich, England in 1257 AD to come to the aid of the town's persecuted Jewry while disguised as a Dominican friar.

This tale has legs. Rice excels at breathing life into historical eras, and her Medieval England is awash in fascinating detail and vivid scenery. Suddenly there is a real plot, with dangerous consequences for the historical present and our future. (It reminded me a bit of A Swiftly Tilting Planetby Madeline L'Engle.) I was fully engrossed and invested in the story and characters.

So much so that the return to the present, and to the protagonist's internal whining, was a letdown. Subsequent sequels are supposed to tackle other historical sojourns, so that's good, and will keep me reading the series.

The writing throughout is in Rice's usual overheated emotional style, both the boring and interesting sections, although she's simplified the prose, as she did in her Christ the Lordseries. When she soars, she really does reach rapturous, rhapsodic heights, but this book stayed dully earthbound for far too long.

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