030 – Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton

Angelfire cover When seventeen-year-old Ellie starts seeing reapers – monstrous creatures who devour humans and send their souls to Hell – she finds herself on the front lines of a supernatural war between archangels and the Fallen and faced with the possible destruction of her soul.

A mysterious boy named Will reveals she is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior, the only one capable of wielding swords of angelfire to fight the reapers, and he is an immortal sworn to protect her in battle. Now that Ellie’s powers have been awakened, a powerful reaper called Bastian has come forward to challenge her. He has employed a fierce assassin to eliminate her – an assassin who has already killed her once.

While balancing her dwindling social life and reaper-hunting duties, she and Will discover Bastian is searching for a dormant creature believed to be a true soul reaper. Bastian plans to use this weapon to ignite the End of Days and to destroy Ellie’s soul, ending her rebirth cycle forever. Now, she must face an army of Bastian’s most frightening reapers, prevent the soul reaper from consuming her soul, and uncover the secrets of her past lives – including truths that may be too frightening to remember.
Sigh. I’m…not sure how to approach this one. I’ll say this from the start: it’s not horrible. I’ve read worse, and there are much worse things out there on the market right now that the YA set could be reading. But let’s get this straight as well: Angelfire is not that great. I’ve seen it being praised up one side and down the other on other blogs and Goodreads and it really doesn’t deserve it. This book falls firmly into the ‘mediocre’ category. It’s not excellent, it’s not awesome, it’s not stellar, it’s just okay.

Conceptually, Angelfire is like the lovechild of a drunken affair between Buffy and Blood+, who, in its rebellious phase, rejected its parents’ predilection for vampires and instead went out and got an angelic makeover to assert its independence. It’s about a girl – the only one in all the world – who has the power to fight Reapers, evil demon-variations that go around munching on humans and sending their souls to hell so that they can fight for Lucifer in the Apocalypse. Yeah, yeah, been there done that, but what’s intended, I suppose, to set Angelfire apart is the fact that our Slayer Preliator is the same soul reincarnated over and over again, eternally watched over and protected by the same stalwart, immortal Guardian.

I have to get this off my chest: the first few chapters of Angelfire reminded me so much of Blood+ I fully expected this to play every time I opened it on my e-reader:

I mean really, the twenty-year life cycles, the immortal Chevalier Guardian who watches over her every time until she ‘awakens’, the rather annoying, ‘normal’ girl who has hundreds of years of history behind her that she only remembers in nightmares and flashes, who snaps into a cold, distant warrior mode to fight when she’s not whimpering in the corner, letting her guardian repeatedly get impaled for her. It’s all a bit familiar for me.

This isn’t necessarily relevant since the two end up differing greatly as they chug along, except that it filled me with an odd kind of hope. I liked Blood+, the concept, the ideas, and I was quite enjoying it until it went and cocked things up with its time jump and annoying side characters and infuriatingly useless heroine who treated her loyal guardian like a goddamned hat rack she could duck behind to avoid getting impaled, not that the writers treated him any better, those bastards, he got all the development of a cardboard cut-out –

Er, anyway, the point is there are worse ideas to recycle. This one made me hopeful. Also, I spent several chapters calling Will Hagi.

But that was moot, because the book quickly dispenses with any new ideas it might have been trying and falls into the same tired formula most first-in-a-series books like this seem to follow: heroine spends a while rejecting her destiny while the people trying to get her to fulfill it follow her around, spouting exposition – but only the introductory kind, not the stuff she arbitrarily has to ~remember for herself~. Eventually she gets tired of being attacked or harassed or whatever and agrees to train, but only if she gets to have her old life too, which only results in extremely awkward parties in which she has to explain to everyone why she keeps disappearing and reappearing with shredded clothes or a damaged car or an unconscious classmate. Eventually the overarching plot appears and we spend our last act concocting a plan to defeat the bad guy that only works because the heroine finally full awakens, and at that, it only works enough to set the bad guy back just a bit. He disappears into the night, cursing those meddling kids and vowing to return, while the heroine finally accepts her destiny, for real this time.

(The last few pages actually made me laugh, since they were obviously only set up to a “bad-ass” full-circle kind of ending in which Ellie executes a Reaper who doesn’t know who she is. Her final line, when the creature demands “What are you?”, is a cold and calm “I’m the Preliator.” AND CUT TO CREDITS.)

Anyway, they may not hit every item on the list, but most unknowingly-superpowered-heroine series go something like that, and in that respect, Angelfire brings absolutely nothing new to the table. But that’s to be expected; books like these are supposed to shine in their worlds and their characters. We’re supposed to be enraptured by the mythology, and root for the plucky heroine and the band of allies she inevitably acquires. So does Moulton succeed on that level? Ehh, yes and no.

Ellie is, I suppose, an adequate heroine, and I can see how her reactions and personality are realistic, I really do. I can’t really call her out on being excessively useless – sure, she freezes in a few fights and has to be badgered into warrior mode, but what can you expect? She’s new to this. Sure, she spends a lot of time partying with friends, but she’s just that kind of heroine – the one who wants it all, destiny and normality. Nor can I cry Mary-Sue or wish-fulfillment – sure, she’s a rich girl – I mean, she gets an Audi for her birthday for Chrissakes – but the author balances it out with a down-to-earth, levelheaded mother and a father that makes for an – well, let’s say unpleasant – home life. Yeah she’s exceptionally pretty, but she hasn’t got twenty different guys in love with her, she’s not brilliant, she has no other discernible skills, and honestly she’s not even all that good at being Preliator. She’s a relatively well-balanced, normal character, and I really have no reason to complain but…she just didn’t do anything for me. Not my type of heroine, I guess.

Some of that may be the writing, which, while not God-awful, is still pretty lackluster. There’s no feeling, no soul to it. Other authors can set a mood and bring you into a world so deeply you can feel it; they create characters so vivid you could swear that they’re real people. Other, better authors can draw emotions from you – fear, sadness, joy, affection. Moulton doesn’t. Her characters are always characters, and her book is always just a book. I never once felt for anyone in it. Injuries, fear, pain, love, joy – no matter what the characters felt or were put through, my reaction was generally ‘meh’.

And while, yes, I am somewhat jaded as far as paranormal romance goes, this is also a fault of the writing. Tell-not-show rears its ugly head again – I don’t think Ellie once communicated an emotion in any way other than spouting it out point-blank. I have to shake my head, because seriously people, I thought this was writing 101. SHOW DON’T TELL. SHOW DON’T TELL. If your character feels the need to tell me multiple times that she’s annoyed, or tired, or angry, or frustrated, you’re not doing it right.

This was probably why I couldn’t get in to the romance. Ellie’s love interest, Will, is clearly in love with her from day one, and it doesn’t take Ellie long to reciprocate. To it’s credit, there is more relationship development here than most novels feature, even though it has a perfectly good excuse for skipping that part – after all, they’ve known each other for hundreds of years. But Moulton does a decent job of at least giving Ellie a reason to love this guy. He’s kind, he looks out for her, and he’s pretty noble. Oh yeah, and he’s hot, let’s not forget that. He’s also obviously utterly devoted to our heroine.

There’s a bit of a masochistic level to his devotion that is…a little annoying, if not outright creepy. He insists over and over that he would die for her, and unlike Ellie, he is doesn’t reincarnate, nor does he ascend to Heaven. So basically, he’s so devoted that he would end his existence for her. Noble, maybe, but the lack of subtlety here has him spouting off this offer every time Ellie (understandably) tells him she doesn’t like seeing him hurt on her behalf. And they have this conversation a lot. It’s like, “Dude, we heard you the first time, chill.”

That’s another issue: there is absolutely no subtlety here. Moulton feels the need to bring up and explore – more than once – ideas that would have been better alluded to. For example, in this world, characters are firmly set into two camps: good and evil. The bad guys come from Hell and eat people and send innocent souls to serve Lucifer and that’s that. The good guys, on the other hand, work for God and are angels, etc., etc. Or at least, that’s what Ellie’s told. But she brings up a good point: if these demons and angels have the kind of consciousness and free will that say, humans do, can’t they choose their own side? Can’t they be bad or good?

It’s a good point; it’s a point that I think any book involving angels and demons should raise. But Moulton not only raises it, she waves it in your face and may as well be screaming “HEY, HEY, THIS WILL BE RELEVANT LATER ON.” Ellie brings it up on like three separate occasions, each time insisting that despite Will’s – and even her own – experience, it has to be possible. LOL OKAY THANKS MOULTON WE GET IT. You’re trying to introduce the possibility of moral ambiguity before actually introducing characters who present the possibility of moral ambiguity. I don’t know if you know this, but it should actually be the other way around. Or, you know, just that last part.

When it comes right down to it, I think my biggest problem with this book is that it’s really shallow. I should have loved this – there are elements of tragedy, and what’s more, cyclical tragedy, my favorite kind. But there’s no depth to the writing or characters, and even the world in undeveloped so far. More than that, this book doesn’t really have anything to say. Where books we loved like Ink Exchange and The Radleys had messages they wanted to convey, and books like A Brush of Darkness and Tyger Tyger were able to convince us to care about their characters, Angelfire was unable to do either. So what’s left?

An occasionally entertaining, if emotionally unsatisfying, read. Is that enough? To pass time, sure. To become a favorite? No, not yet. Perhaps, as the series moves along, Moulton will learn from her mistakes. But only if we tell her, guys.

The thing is, I can see this book getting big. It has all the right elements to become a mainstream hit, and while, like I said, there are worse things you could be reading, there are also much, much better ones. Hence the SIGH.

two stars

Also, this book was a free e-galley we received through NetGalley. SURPRISE SURPRISE.


8 Responses

  1. bibliophile brouhaha

    March 2, 2011 11:22 pm, Reply

    You enjoyed this book more than I did. I feel guilty, but I just couldn’t get into the story at all and put it down early on (it was a galley). I am going to look at a finished copy eventually just see if I missed something, but yeah it was a pass for me, too. If I had finished< I would have reviewed it.

  2. Cat the Librarian

    March 3, 2011 2:15 am, Reply

    I finished it. Barely. I wasn’t impressed at all. It was one of those books I had heard so much about that I couldn’t just put it down, but I probably only got through it as quickly as I did because I had a copy of Delirium up next that I desperately wanted to read. 🙂

  3. Kayla + Cyna

    March 3, 2011 9:45 am, Reply

    @bibliophile – hahaha, that’s not saying much, since I was dragging myself through it. Maybe the sequel will be better, but I’ll enjoy the downtime between them lol. We’ll let you know 🙂

    @cat – I really thought I’d be in the minority here not liking it, kinda glad to see that’s not the case lol. Me too, it just did nothing for me, even though I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why. Ah, well.

    I’ve got Delirium coming up too, but I think I’m gonna read something a little more fun before I tackle another YA book.

  4. Daisy

    March 3, 2011 2:59 pm, Reply

    I fall a bit in the middle for this book as well, it wasn’t bad, but I didn’t love it, like so many people out there did. I also didn’t really feel connected to Ellie, which is so important to me.
    Loved how you compared it to Buffy 😉

  5. Kayla + Cyna

    March 3, 2011 8:34 pm, Reply

    @Daisy – Same here, the lack of real interest in the heroine bout killed it for me.

    Lol I love how a lot of reviewers are calling Will a Giles/Angel mash-up. TRUE STORY.

  6. dreamworlder

    April 21, 2015 11:47 pm, Reply

    I agree about the writing being bland. However, one of my biggest reasons why I didn’t care much about how the story would turn out is that there’s no CONSEQUENCES to the violence. If Ellie or Will got disemboweled or lost an arm, they’d immediately heal and bounce back. That sucked all tension out of the story for me. In my opinion, a good fantasy story makes you fear for the characters and doesn’t give them victories easily.

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