Five years after Sharon Shinn concluded her original, thought-provoking Archangel trilogy, she has apparently decided there are more stories to tell about the land of Samaria, where angels co-exist with humans. Shinn created such a memorable world that it must have been hard to stay away. While not as remarkable as the first three books, is a rich, engrossing read.
The events in Angelica take place just 240 years after Samaria was founded by a group of settlers looking to escape the violence of their home planet (and before the events of the first three Archangel books). According to Samarian history, their god Jovah carried the original settlers to a new world and created a race of angels who could fly high enough to communicate with Jovah, asking him for weather changes, medicine or other necessities. Because sophisticated technology had contributed to the downfall of their former planet, the Samarians eschewed any kind of machinery, preferring a simple life of farming and trading. In order to ensure peace, each year the head Archangel sings a song of praise to Jovah accompanied by his mate, the Angelica. If this annual Gloria fails to take place, Jovah will destroy Samaria.
Gabriel Aaron has been designated to serve as the next Archangel, and everyone agrees that he is an excellent choice. ďGaaronĒ is a resolute leader and problem-solver, accustomed to bearing the weight of serious responsibilities that include a wayward human half-sister named Miriam. When Gaaron petitions the ancient Oracle for the name of the woman Jovah has chosen as his Angelica, he is surprised to discover that his bride will be Susannah of the Edori tribe. A group that is considered outside mainstream Samarian life, the Edori are clan-based nomads. Gaaron is not thrilled with this news, but of course he will follow the will of his god. He is dismayed to learn that Susannah, when located, is not especially appreciative of the honor that Jovah has bestowed on her. Susannah cherishes her Edori lifestyle and chafes at the idea of being cooped up in The Eyrie, Gaaronís mountainous home. But she agrees to go with him, more out of the desire to escape a messy situation with her charming but faithless lover than out of obligation to Gaaron and Jovah.
Gaaron doesnít have much time to worry about Susannah, although he is relieved that she is a sensible woman who isnít tempestuous or demanding like his sister. Miriam keeps getting herself into more and more trouble and Gaaron despairs of finding a path that will lead her away from self-destruction. But even more disturbing are rumors from Southern Samaria of black-clad strangers who are roaming the countryside, destroying entire campsites and settlements with horrifying fire sticks. Are they Samarians who have gone astray, or have they somehow arrived from another world? Gaaron, Susannah and, surprisingly, Miriam each have a role to play in protecting Samaria so that its inhabitants can once again live in safety and peace.
More than anything else, Sharon Shinn is a consummate world-builder. She has created a full society in Samaria with several distinct cultures. Readers who are familiar with the original trilogy will already know about the angels, whose beautiful wings and lovely singing voices canít hide the fact that they share the same personality strengths and weaknesses as the other, more mundane Samarians. The lofty Manadavvi landowners and the repressive Jansai will also be familiar to those making return trips to this world, but never before has Shinn explored the life of the Edori so thoroughly. From their warm personalities to the communal sleeping arrangements, the nomads are presented as a simple but joyous and gracious people. Susannahís struggles to adjust to structured world of The Eyrie are easy to understand.
Shinn is a little less successful at character development, although she does create one fascinating character in Miriam. As a child, her outrageous behavior failed to get the attention of her emotionally distant father, so now she rebels against Gaaron even as she admits that she loves and admires him. While the reader feels for the neglected child, the young woman is harder to empathize with because her behavior hurts so many other people. But through her surprising journey away from the Eyrie, she matures and proves herself to be caring and brave. Her scenes sparkle with vitality. Unfortunately, the same canít be said for Susannah and Gaaron. Theyíre both good people but a bit staid, and while they obviously admire and care for each other itís difficult to believe they fall passionately in love. Shinn seems to realize that, and wraps up their happily-ever-after rather abruptly.
With Shinn providing plenty of background for new readers, Angelica can stand on its own admirably. However, certain revelations were made in the first three novels that shed a different light on the happenings in this book, and if you havenít read the original trilogy it might be harder to appreciate Angeliaís nuances. Shinn is planning to release at least one additional Archangel book in 2004, which can only be good news. She certainly hasnít exhausted all of the possibilities yet of this fascinating world.