Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Angelfall, by Susan Ee

Angelfall is another example of the e-book to print phenomenon: "multi-selling self-published e-book gets snapped up by print publisher". I will admit straight up that I am a book/publishing snob, I'm afraid, so I tend to be rather skeptical about this path through writer-dom and thus I was a little skeptical about reading Angelfall. But a good friend recommended it to me, and lent me her copy, so I decided to give it a try. Of course, I didn’t look back.

The lowdown: Six weeks ago the Angels appeared. They returned to Earth and then began systematically destroying it. Society has fallen apart, millions of people are dead, and those who aren’t are either forming deadly street gangs or trying to avoid them. Into this new world steps Penryn, her little sister Paige, and her not-entirely-there mother. But before they can get out of the city, they stumble onto an Angel battle and Paige is stolen away. Where have the Angels taken her? Why do they want her? What will they do to her? Nothing is more important to Penryn than to find the answers to these questions and to get her little sister back. And the best way of doing this is by befriending the enemy. After she saves the Angel Raffe’s life, she makes him promise to take her to the Angel stronghold so she can get Paige back. Assuming Paige is still alive, of course.

Essentially, Susan Ee has written the same story that most writers who enter this genre write. It is – mostly – predictable, following just the pathway you expect such a story to follow. Yet this is one reason why people read and love this genre; why we read it over and over again in a slightly altered format, and why writers write it over and over. There’s something wonderful and compelling involved in slipping into this other world, essentially a fantasy world, where our characters are surrounded by awful happenstance, yet are strong and fight on. It is pure escapism. It’s ironic because I don’t want to ever have to experience apocalypse like our characters inevitably do, have to fight for my life, scrounge for food, mourn the loss of family, friends, an extinguished life; but to live through those things with the characters, alongside the inevitable falling in love (usually with the one person they really shouldn’t be) is to experience a sort of rush that I, in some ways, dream or yearn for in my real life. I want it, but I wouldn’t really want if I had it. Hence the reading, and the re-reading in a slightly different format, and the re-reading again. It’s actually a little weird.

As to my feelings on self-publishing, I know it’s judgemental, but I just can’t seem to help feeling that self-publication is something people do when they can’t get published-published, and that this somehow reflects on the quality of that person’s writing or storytelling. In truth, I know it doesn't always reflect on a writer’s capability, but the fact is that the (admittedly very small) handful of books I’ve read which were initially self-published do not come up to scratch with traditionally published works. This is not necessarily related to the writer’s ability; essentially, it is because the writing lacks the gloss that a good editor can provide. Most people who self-publish have not had their work read through two dozen times, criticised, adjusted, edited, as it would be if it went to a print publisher. This does not mean the writing is not good; it means the writing is not given the opportunity to be as good as it possibly could be. Thus, when I begin reading, I begin unpicking the things that would have been fixed by an editor, becoming rather distracted from the story and ultimately rather irritated by the whole thing. Yes, judgemental; I’ll admit it.

The first fifteen to twenty pages of Angelfall lived up to my relatively limited expectations. It felt engineered (which of course it is), unreal, labored. I was particularly irritated by the way in which Penryn labeled the different angels she witnesses fighting early on: Snow, Night, Stripes. This is no slur on Susan Ee particularly; I just don’t like the habit of using a description of a person (in this case, the angels’ wing designs) to create a name. It really grates, and I nearly gave up on the book for that reason alone. But my friend lent it to me, so I pledged to myself that I would read at least the first fifty pages and if I still didn’t like it then I would at that point have at least given it a good go. Of course, by the time I got to about page 30, I was hooked. I may have found the beginning slow and labored, but nothing else was. And neither was it badly written nor particularly lacking due to the aforementioned self-publishing effect.

Once she found her feet, Susan Ee performed pretty well. Of course, it’s all a complete fantasy, and quite ridiculous in places, but very enjoyable nonetheless. Why exactly did the Angels attack Earth? Is it God’s plan, or are they acting of their own accord? Why are the Angels creating a Nephilim sub-species? And how, please how, are Raffe and Penryn going to figure things out?  It’s as gripping as it is ridiculous and, ridiculous as it may be on occasion, there are far, far more ridiculous stories out there in the book universe. Ultimately, Angelfall is interesting and intriguing enough for me to be considering book two, World After. After all, who doesn’t need a little fantasy in their life?

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