Fantasy provides the opportunity for some really cool stuff. You get to see people fight dragons, cast spells, ride mythical beasts, and all kinds of cool stuff. But when you get into celestial fantasy, it gets a little bit hairy. Even if staying true to the Bible is a priority for the writer, we’re just not given very much information about angels and demons, so inevitably, you have to go beyond what you know, which is part of the fun of fantasy. But when you’re dealing with celestial fantasy, you’re also dealing with an extremely direct view of God, which should be handled with care. I guess Sabrina Benulis didn’t get the memo.
Like the majority of epic fantasy, this book revolves around a prophecy. That a red-haired woman, who’s called The Ruin, will bring great destruction on all of creation. Of course, that gets confusing, because about a quarter of the way through the book, we find out that that’s not actually a true understanding of the prophecy.
Wait a minute. Who turns back on what they’ve written so fast?
At any rate, for this reason, redheaded girls are often despised and abused if they’re born into Catholic families, since they’re looked at as possibly being the one who will bring great destruction on mankind. One of these is Angela, who’s been so often abused by her parents in terrible ways, both physically and emotionally, that she’s, well, suicidal. But her being suicidal is actually a little bit deeper than escaping from her now-deceased parents. She has dreams of angels, one angel in particular, who she longs to see, and knows that she can only see if she dies, which she appears to be unable to do, presumably due to a guardian angel looking over her. To most people that’s a blessing, but to her, it’s more of a curse.
So Angela goes from a psych ward to Luz–a city which houses a private Catholic academy. It’s supposed to be safe place for “bloodheads” to go. Her brother Brendan is also there, which is convenient, because she needs to apologize to him for, well, you know, accidentally burning their parents alive in one of her suicide attempts.
Yeah. That’s going to be an awkward reunion.
But it’s at the academy that she runs into Stephanie. She’s also a bloodhead, but she happens to be a witch. She has an obsession with being The Ruin that’s clearly psychotic, and aims to get Angela in her sorority (a front for power control, ultimately), by force if necessary. She also happens to be Brendan’s girlfriend.
Well, sort of. Because she’s Brendan’s girlfriend, but she’s also sleeping with this guy named Kim (no joke, he’s a guy and that’s his name), who happens to actually be interested in Angela and wants to drop Stephanie, but you know, she’s a witch and stuff.
But things quickly start heading downhill at Luz. Angela does manage to get something she’s never had before, having friends in Nina and Sophia, but the battle to find out who the prophecy speaks of escalates, and it soon becomes clear that the fight is not only for destruction on Earth, but also a fight to release the hosts of Hell on all realms, including the Nexus, which we know as Heaven.
All of that is pretty interesting. But where the story becomes more troubling is in its theology, or, more accurately, mythology. Some of the changes from traditional understanding about the Heavenly realms are interesting while being somewhat meaningless in terms of corrupting our worldview. For example, Satan in this book is a woman, not a man, and her name is Lucifel rather than Lucifer.
Other changes are more troubling, however. We quickly get the idea that not all angels are good. In fact, Kim tells Angela that angels don’t even care about humanity, that to them, matters regarding the Earth are beneath them. And true to form, we fail to meet a single angel that could be described as a good guy. The closest we receive is one whose goals are not yet known, and he committed suicide (is sort of reincarnated now) to avoid God’s wrath for an incestuous relationship. The sexuality of the angels is also something that’s occasionally explored, including references to homosexual relations.
Now, it is worth noting that these relationships are not placed in a positive light. One of the involved parties eventually meets a very unsavory end as a result for the evil that’s in his heart (there are other details as well, or so we’re meant to assume), and the angel involved is far from a good guy. There’s also occasional referenced sexuality between human characters, although these are left to be mostly references or small snippets and not explicit scenes.
But I would be willing to look past some of this if it were not for one question that continued to bother me throughout the entire story: where is God in all of this? God clearly exists in this world (and is referenced by angels as The Father), but He apparently doesn’t decide to intervene when Hell threatens all of humanity. The story even seems to hint at The Father being made ineffective. Israfel, one of the not-so-good angels, says at one point “The Father has nothing to do with it,” after which the narrator says “He’d made sure of that.” That statement is never explained, but it has to make me wonder if the worldview of this story is that angels can overpower God. If so, that’s a special type of heresy that we don’t see very often.
If you read the synopsis for the second book, however, it does appear that The Father will play a bigger role as the story unfolds. But I’m very skeptical that it will be positive enough to overpower the damage that’s already there. So although there are some redeeming qualities, such as Angela sticking up for her friends, they are few and far between, especially when contrasted with the glaring problems in a worldview that looks with cynicism on the hosts of Heaven and Hell and says “You know, they’re really not that different.”