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.