Review: Angel Seeker, by Sharon Shinn

This was the fifth and final book in Shinn’s Samaria series. It’s not that it reached any definitive conclusion to the series, just that it was the last one written and that the author has said she has no plans to write more of them.

I enjoyed it. It seemed to have a bit of a political message, but it was one I agree with.

All of these Samaria books are interesting blends of SF, fantasy, and romance. The SF bit is that we’re living in a world that is specifically not Earth but a distant colony of Earth in some equally distant future. The fantasy bit is that we’re living in a world with angels living amongst the mortals of the world, and there is no doubt about the reality of Jovah, their god. They can sing prayers and get results, anything from manna falling from the heavens to lightning bolts blasting at the desired target. And the romance… well, in some ways I would say that they are all romance books merely set in an odd SF/fantasy world.

This book has two romances. The first is between an ambitious girl and… well, I won’t say with whom. She is determined to marry an angel and give birth to an angel child. I won’t say whether or not she succeeds, but I will say that her romance is more about finding herself than whether or not she actually marries an angel. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, mostly for her character arc.

The second romance was between an angel and a young Jansai girl. The Jansai are one of the many cultures populating the world of Samaria, and they seem to be remarkably similar to certain Earth cultures, particularly in how they treat their women. They treat their women as cherished property, but they can also be quite vicious to their women if they step outside their defined roles. And sexual promiscuity pretty much carries the death penalty, i.e. stoning and exile to the lifeless desert.

Anyway, this second romance dealt a lot with the politics around that kind of culture. Many or most of the men seem to be quite happy to hand out these harsh punishments. Some are disgusted by it but seem powerless to stop the overall harshness. The women are mixed between those who support it simply because it’s what they know, those who hate it but find can only fight it in tiny rebellions, and those who would flagrantly flaunt the law of their male masters.

Shinn ultimately comes down hard on this culture, so there is some politics here, but like I said, I agree with her position. As for the romance, I mostly found myself shouting at the young Jansai girl to get out while the getting is good, but I confess that seeing her reluctance to leave the only world she knew gave me some insight into how many women on Earth tolerate or even reinforce these cultures here on Earth. So while parts of it made my skin crawl, it did expand my horizons.

Now, that’s all about how I liked the book for what it was. However, I do have a little complaint about what the book wasn’t, and that’s no fault of the book. What bugged me was where it fell in the Samarian timeline.

The first three books in this series proceeded along in chronological order. Then the fourth book jumped to a time long before the first, and then this one was just after the first. That would be all right except that the third book – the furthest along in the timeline – kind of ended on a cliffhanger. There had been some major change in the world, and I was left wondering what was going to happen next. After two more books, I still don’t know because nothing has been written in the time after the third book, and from the sounds of it, nothing will be.

As such, the series feels unfinished to me. I don’t know if the publisher just gave up on it, or if the author herself doesn’t know what comes next. Either way, I’m cranky that I never quite got a sense of resolution to this series.

Review: Angelica, by Sharon Shinn

This is the fourth book in Shinn’s “Samaria” series, where almost-honest-to-God angels live among the humans on a distant world:

This one was a step backwards in time for the series, taking place a few generations before the first book, Archangel. Again, there is the regular plot line about the difficult relationship between the archangel and his angelica, and there was also an somewhat twisty plot line about the archangel’s human sister trying to find her place in the world. Against this backdrop, the people face the onslaught of invaders with mysterious powers and an equally mysterious origin.

I liked it, but I don’t think it was as good as the previous ones. I put a lot of that on the romance plot line, which really lacked passion in this book. Admittedly, much of the difficulty they had was coming to terms with them both being quite level-headed and not particularly passionate, so it’s not like the author merely failed to reveal their passion. Rather, she made it clear it wasn’t there to begin with. So, I’ll give her a B+ for realism in that respect, but a C- for invoking the romance. About the only thing that really saved that plot line was just how smart and practical each member of the couple was. It’s rare to see protagonists that don’t plunge deep into that one stupid thing we all know is going to be a disaster.

The plotline with the sister was a lot more interesting to me, because it takes someone who starts off emotionally damaged and leads us through her dark times and trials as she reinvents herself into a better person. I wish I saw more of that kind of story line in my SF/F.

But more than anything, I was disappointed by this step backwards in time. Each of the previous three books revealed something about the world of Samaria and the god who ruled over them. By the end of those three, we know a lot about that god, and I must say that the third one left me wondering, “Well shit… what’s going to happen now?” But the fourth book did not pick that up. Instead, it went back.

I’m not sure what’s going on in the fifth book. I don’t know if it’s merely the fifth or if it’s the final one, but I’m hoping it either goes all the way back to the beginning to the founding of Samaria or picks up where the third book left off. As it is, this one added very little to the world’s canon. Instead, it was more of a filler book, telling us some inconsequential tale. Maybe something happens in book five that will change my mind about this, but I doubt it.

So the bottom line is that I enjoyed reading it, but I was disappointed in what it did for the series.

(And yes, I’m switching my various book links over to Amazon Associate links, so that funky URL means I’m whoring myself out. Whether Amazon is the savior of books or the destroyer of mankind I leave to the reader.)