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Sharon Shinn

Ace Books

US Hardback

ISBN: 0-441-01013-X

Pages: 496; Price: $23.95

Date Reviewed: 22nd March 2003

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2003



Science Fiction, Fantasy

Like Sharon Shinn's previous Samaria novels, 'Angelica' is somewhat hard to place in terms of genre. Marketed in the sci-fi/fantasy field, its only claim to sci-fi is that the controlling force of the planet, the god Jovah, was mentioned in a previous novel to be a ship orbiting the planet, who communicates with an otherwise technologically-challenged civilization through a kind of computer, and blesses the mortals through a crystal inserted under skin. As fantasy, it works well: it's a prequel to her earlier novels, 'Archangel', 'Jovah's Angels' and 'The Alleluia Files', and deals with a planet peopled by humans taken from another world too violent and overpopulated. Angels created by Jovah, to ensure that safety and justice prevail, rule Samaria. Each Archangel, or ruler, must have an 'Angelica' chosen by Jovah to rule by his side, which gives rise to an interesting romantic device for the plot. The 'Angelica' chosen for the Archangel Gaaron, Susannah, is living her life with her tribe, the Edori, and her unfaithful lover when she meets Gaaron and hears of the god's plans for her, and reluctantly she goes with the angel and lives with his people. This is the story of their developing romance, alongside the (very subsidiary) threat of men who burn campsites, which seems a bit random as the plot is essentially character-driven.

However, in Susannah we have a real fantasy heroine - if that's not a contradiction in terms. She has mixed emotions, feels happiness and pain, and it doesn't even matter what she's wearing! She's real, and likeable, as are many other characters in this novel, and it just goes to show that whichever planet you live on, and whether human or angel, emotions and experiences are pretty much the same wherever you go. There is a character for everyone to identify with here, and the strong romantic slant of the novel will also broaden its appeal, although the romance isn't quite as believable as I'd hoped - but it's a good sign that I wanted to believe in it. Love against the odds is usually a popular theme, although it would be a pity if this were to be filed away as "fantasy for girls", although there are distinctly girly moments, such as the female angels of Gaaron's household having a sleepover, complete with makeup and hair-dye, which raised a smile.

Shinn has made a pretty decent attempt at coming up with idiomatic languages for the tribes, which is hard to do without unnecessary and frequently cringe-worthy moments of high drama, but this novel is based on music, the songs of the angels, and she successfully echoes that in her colorful prose. Essentially this is a novel about harmony and balance - between angels and mortals, between tribes, between individual relationships and between free will and religion. Music is a primary force to the angels, and thus acts as a motivating force within the novel, and Shinn develops this motif to good effect.

Religion is explored to a certain extent, although not as deeply as in the previous Samaria novels. It's evident that Shinn has based her world on Old Testament geography, civilization and ethics, which lends an element of familiarity, but it would be interesting to discover more about her sources and motivations. I did spend a lot of time trying to place the world of Samaria into a cultural framework I could understand, but in the end her world won and I accepted it as it was, as a reader should!