Two years ago, Brenna did the unthinkable. She witnessed the aftermath of a murder and accused her only true friend – the first boy she ever loved – of being a killer.For the life of me, I just could not get into In the Arms of Stone Angels. From start to finish, my interest in the story and characters was mild at best – it was easy to put down, and I went days at a time between readings without the urge to pick it back up again. Even after finishing it, In the Arms of Stone Angels hasn’t made a terribly strong impression on me; I’m left more with half-interested observations than any strong praise or even IMPASSIONED RAGE. I wonder if that isn’t almost worse…
Now sixteen, Brenna returns to Oklahoma only to discover that Isaac “White Bird” Henry isn’t in juvie. The half-breed outcast is in a mental hospital, frozen in time, locked in his mind at the worst moment of his life. And when Brenna touches him, she’s pulled into his hellish vision quest, seeing terrifying demons and illusions she doesn’t understand.
Feeling isolated and alone, she’s up against the whole town, targeted by bullying former classmates, a bigoted small town sheriff, and a tribe who refuses to help one of their own. But when Brenna realizes she’s as trapped by the past as White Bird is, this time she won’t turn her back on him. She’s the only one who can free them both.
Even if she has to expose her secret – a “gift” she’s kept hidden her whole life
Anyway, despite having eight published books to her name, In the Arms of Stone Angels is new territory for Jordan Dane: it’s her first YA novel, and apparently her first paranormal as well (most of her previous stories were in the mystery/thriller genre). And…well, it shows.
I’m not shocked Angels is her first YA – there are a few tell-tale signs. Her protagonist, Brenna, is unevenly written, sounding alternately too young or too old for her sixteen years. When she’s in “teen” mode, Brenna generally resides in the PC Cast land of “I-speak-in-slang-and-say-duh-therefore-I-must-be-young”, but there are occasions where not only her narration, but her interaction with other characters give the impression that she’s ten years older.
Brenna is also an incredibly obnoxious heroine, thanks to the resoundingly inauthentic ~tortured~ and ~rebellious~ personality Dane tries to give her. Brenna and I got off on the wrong foot right away, right around the time she decided to grace us with her thoughts on style:
I wasn’t your average Abercrombie girl. I didn’t wear advertising brand names on my body.It’s not a life choice. It’s a religion, okay? Ugh, can I smack this girl now, please? It’s not that she dresses like a bag lady – I could care less what the heroine wears – and it’s not even her desire to be different, I’m sure a lot of teenagers and adults can relate to that. No, it’s that attitude – the pretentious, self-serious way she describes her beliefs and motivations. Brenna is the kind of misfit cliche who talks back to her mother because she could never understand her ~pain~, who loudly declares herself ~different~ and looks down on the kids who aren’t, who feels like she and the other ~different~ boy she finds when she is fourteen share such a ~deep connection~ and ~understanding~, that no one else could ever ~understand~, because they’re just so much deeper than normal people, you know, and they know what it’s like to be different. She’s the kind of kid who cuts herself and then runs off in the middle of the night to sleep in graveyards because that’s where she’s thinks she’s most comfortable. Yes, she literally sleeps in graveyards. UGH.
It was a life choice. A religion.
I got my clothes from Dumpster diving and Goodwill, anything I could stitch together that would make my own statement. Today I wore a torn jean jacket over a sundress with leggings that I’d cut holes into. I had a plaid scarf draped around my neck with a cap pulled down on my head. My “screw you” toes were socked away in unlaced army boots and I hid behind a huge pair of dark aviator sunglasses, a signature accessory and only one in a weird collection I carried with me. I liked the anonymity of me seeing out when no one saw in.
The overall impact was that I looked like an aspiring bag lady. A girl’s got to have goals.
In short, I didn’t give a shit about fitting in with the masses and it showed. I’d given up the idea of fitting in long ago. The herd mentality wasn’t for me and since I made things up as I went, people staring came with the territory.
In short, Brenna fits into the same sort of mold as characters like Raven from Ellen Shreiber’s Vampire Kisses series (who, just for the record, I hated with a fiery passion) – both are teenage misfits written by authors who just don’t get the difference between the behaviors of attention whores and actual misfits.
There is a difference between Brenna and Raven, though, and it’s a vital one that keeps In the Arms of Stone Angels from delving too far into Vampire Kisses territory: Brenna actually has a good reason to be an emo misfit, what with her turning over her ~childhood love~ to the po-po. You can understand why she would cut and have emotional problems, and she actually has a legitimate reason (in her eyes) to mistrust her mother and the world at large. Does it absolve her of the pretentious attitude and cliche tendencies? No. Brenna would have been a lot stronger, more sympathetic heroine without them. But it does go a long way towards making them understandable and perhaps justified, and to be fair, by the end of the novel she does grow…somewhat.
The trouble with a lot of Brenna’s narration, though, is how very aware she is of her motivations, and really, this is a problem that almost all of the characters who get a chance to narrate have (yes, there is more than one). It seems as though every character who takes a turn at the wheel spends half their screen time doing stuff and the other half absently reflecting on why, like that’s something people actually do in real life. Sure, we may be aware of our own psychological triggers and scars, but we don’t constantly analyze the way they’re influencing what we’re doing right now. It’s not exactly a case of tell-not-showing – more like show, then tell, as though Dane is petrified that we won’t understand anyone’s motivations simply based on the way they act and what we know about them.
And that’s really not a concern, because none of the characters are really complicated enough for their motivations to be very mysterious. This is another problem; pretty much every character except Brenna fits into a stereotypical role, and does nothing to deviate from it. You’ve got your standard-issue Mean Girl and her Dumb Jock boyfriend (our primary antagonists), the Hanger-oner, the kind young Rookie cop, and the Magical Native American (more on that in a minute). The only one who really shows any dimension at all is the Sheriff, a Corrupt Hick who breaks the mold by being less corrupt than misinformed and dickish. He’s still a racist asshole who victim-blames Brenna and throws her in jail after she’s brutally beaten (supposedly by bikers she ran off with, but actually by his fucking nephew, not that it should make a difference), but by the end of the book he’s figured – as well as acknowledged – the error of his ways, making him the only character to significantly evolve.
I suppose you could call Brenna complex-ish, but I think she qualifies more as your standard Damaged Heroine, since there is exactly one thing wrong with her and by the end of the book it’s been pretty much fixed by her spectacular rescue of the poor comatose Euchee boy. She might have been more interesting if they had chosen to explore her powers at, you know, all, but Brenna’s actual ability to see ghosts had very little impact on the story; it was mostly her connection and concern for White Bird that allowed her to help him out in the end.
It smells a bit of sequel baiting, really. They establish that the Native American characters’ powers come from their Native-American-ness, but that doesn’t necessarily explain Brenna, unless her pointedly mysterious father is also Euchee. Or are we just supposed to accept it because she’s the heroine and she’s special, so there?
Speaking of magical Euchee, let’s talk about those Native American characters for a moment, shall we? I get that writing POC is hard, and I’m a bit uncomfortable even bringing this up, to be honest, but it was one of my biggest problems with the book, so I have to say something. There are exactly two Native American characters in Angels: the book’s
White Bird had the potential to be the most complex character, in my opinion – he was a half-Euchee half-white orphan boy abandoned by his parents and rejected by the tribe. When Brenna meets him, he is so desperate to belong that he’s become obsessed with living by his tribe’s ancient rituals and traditions as a means of proving himself. The whole plot essentially hinges on the fact that he dove headfirst into one of these traditions without the proper preparation, ending up trapped in his mind in a never-ending vision quest as a result.
It’s actually very sad, when you think about it, but the book cops out in exploring the troubled psyche of an abandoned boy who sees over-emphasizing one aspect of his genealogy as his only road to acceptance. Instead, they essentially justify his decisions by casting White Bird as the stereotypical Noble Savage, granting him an absurd level of maturity, wisdom, patience, and kindness for a neglected fourteen-year-old boy, and this is presumably a result of his ~embracing his heritage~.
Joe Sunne is less ambiguously stereotypical – he’s the Magical Native American, pure and simple, there for the express purpose of knowing mystical things and imparting his wisdom on the heroine so that she may save the day.
So yeah, in Brenna’s world, being Euchee gives you mystical powers, means you have to whole-heartedly cling to ancient cultural beliefs, and makes you wiser than everyone else. Sure, this may not sound that bad, but shallow stereotypes are still stereotypes, even if they’re not “negative”, perse.
Characterization aside, Angels‘ plot wasn’t terribly compelling either. The pacing was off, so much so that when the finale conflict arrived, I didn’t realize until I looked at the page count that it wasn’t a doomed-to-fail midpoint attempt. Not that I wasn’t pleased to find it was almost over, because at that point the other character’s narrations had totally killed any mystery-supplied suspense and tension the book otherwise might have had.
PROTIP: strongly alluding that certain characters are the murderers and not introducing any viable alternative has the unfortunate effect of making the reader believe that this is an uncontested fact; it doesn’t matter if another character actually did it, for me, the murderers weren’t in question, so there was no related suspense. At that point, I thought the mystery of the book was supposed to involve why the girl was killed, and about halfway through you start to figure that shallow girls have shallow motivations, so what else is there to discover?
Thus, by the time the book ended, I was bored, and suddenly lobbing the “real” killer out of left field did nothing to change that; it just made me realize how much of an opportunity had been wasted by not presenting the mystery as a “whodunnit” instead of a “why”.
All in all, In the Arms of Stone Angels was a very flawed, largely boring book for me. The characters were obnoxious or one-dimensional, the mysticism was vague and cliched and underdeveloped, and there was no suspense or tension to keep me hooked, which boggles the mind, considering Dane is a mystery writer. It’s tedious and forgettable, and I can’t recommend it.
Review copy provided by netGalley.