Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Breath of Angel: A Novel (The Angelaeon Circle, Book 1), by Karyn Henley


Melaia is a chantress, trained in the art of storytelling, but the story of her life seems pretty dull.  She's never left Navia, where she was left on the temple steps as an infant.  She wants to travel, to see new places, to have adventures, but soon she gets far more than she bargained for.  It turns out that the Angels in the old stories are real--as are the humans who ate the forbidden fruit of the Wisdom Tree, thereby gaining immortality.  But the Wisdom Tree was destroyed, and with it the Angels' ability to get home to heaven and into other worlds.  The angels on earth--and all the souls of those who've died since the Tree's destruction--are trapped on (or under) the Earth.  They can only be freed by the restoration of the Tree . . . but who will do it?  And how?  And what does all this have to do with a certain ancient harp and the handsome stranger who comes to Navia in search of it?  Melaia is about to learn the secrets of her past--secrets that may very well decide her future . . .

Let me start off by saying that this book is loads better than the second one.  Which is not to say it's a great book--it isn't.  But it's much more readable--and thus more enjoyable--than Eye of the Sword.  The primary reason for the improvement is the point of view.  This story is about Melaia, and hers are the eyes through which we see the world.  Which is convenient, since she (like us) is largely ignorant of the details of Angel culture and lore.  She doesn't know about the hierarchy of Angels, or the true legend of the Wisdom Tree.  She doesn't know how the Wisdom Tree is to be restored, or even what significance that restoration has. She has to be taught these things, and as she learns, we learn. This results in a steady stream of new information, to be sure, but the flow is measured enough that the reader can digest most if not all of it, and there are mercifully few sentences that begin with awkward constructions like 'she remembered the time [X important event happened]' (a construction that occurred with distressing frequency in Eye of the Sword).

There are, to be sure, an awful lot of names.  The characters trudge through various locales with names like Redcliff, Qanreef, Navia, the Durenwoods, the Dregmoors, and so on, and there are probably more characters than we really and truly need.  And there's still some rather confusing exposition on kinds of Angels that have yet to make an appearance in either story.  On the whole, however, it's much less overwhelming than the second book.

Which leads me to a related question:  Is Eye of the Sword better if you've read Breath of Angel first?  The answer: Yes.  But that doesn't make it good.  Of course it's easier to understand the backstory when you've read the backstory, but that doesn't mean Henley handled it well in Eye of the Sword.  The events of Breath of Angel were squashed in awkwardly, and by making Trevin (the handsome stranger in Breath of Angel) the primary voice of the second book, Henley deprived the reader of the chance to learn about the fantasy world with the character.  Trevin already knows about this world.  He doesn't need to be taught about it, like Melaia.  The result is a mass of backstory and mythology that hits the reader like a ton of bricks.  So yes, it would undoubtedly be easier to read if you were already familiar with the first book, and thus its events and mythology.  But that doesn't give Henley a free pass--if you're writing a series, you have to figure out how to navigate the 'previouslies'.  After all, you may have picked up new readers.

All of that being said, I enjoyed this book a lot more than the second one.  Reading Breath of Angel, I can see why Waterbrook Press agreed to publish it.  It is an interesting idea, and Henley has created a fairly interesting world for the reader to explore--Angels, immortals, magic harps, addictive life-prolonging substances, Nephilim (half-angels), birds with human hands . . . there's definitely some good stuff here.  Here's hoping that the next installment (Throat of the Night, release date TBA) is more artfully handled than the second.

Bottom line:  If you're going to read this series, definitely start at the beginning.  But even then, know in advance that while Breath of Heaven is pretty decent, Eye of the Sword is kind of a slog.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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