|Sharon Shinn’s popular Samaria series takes place on a futuristic planet where the angels who live side-by-side with humans have lofty status and important responsibilities, as well as faults and vanities that render them far less than divine. The series has jumped around in the history Samaria, gradually giving readers a more complete picture of this fascinating land. Angel-Seeker takes place soon after the events of Shinn’s first angel book, Archangel. You can appreciate Angel-Seeker even if you have not read the other four books in the Samaria series, but I’d recommend reading at least Archangel to gain a better understanding of Shinn’s unique world.
As the novel begins, we learn that the new Archangel, Gabriel, has restored the honor and integrity of his position after the death of the previous Archangel, Raphael, who perished with many of his followers after daring to defy the will of the god Jovah. A new angel hold is being established in Castle Hill, and the new residents are being encouraged to “be fruitful and multiply” to replace the many angels who were lost in the conflagration.
Into Castle Hill comes Elizabeth, a beautiful young woman who is running away after years spent toiling on her cousin’s isolated farm, barely tolerated as a poor relation. Orphaned young, Elizabeth has a rather self-centered attitude; she’s looking out for number one since no one else will bother. She joins the legions of other women who have flocked to Castle Hill hoping to sleep with an angel, bear an angel child and consequently be honored for their rare, valued offspring. These angel-seekers are scorned by Samarians, but young, single women have few other alternatives for upward mobility. Elizabeth does catch the attention of a handsome angel, but she learns that the reality doesn’t quite live up to the fantasy. At the same time, she inadvertently discovers a skill that might be more fulfilling than being an angel groupie.
Meanwhile, the affable angel Obadiah accepts Gabriel’s request to leave Samaria’s main angel hold, join the host in Castle Hill, and take on a diplomatic task. During his crooked reign, Raphael allied himself with the Jansai tribe, turning a blind eye when they enslaved the nomadic Edoris and reaping the benefits of their ambitious merchants. Now that Gabriel has freed the Edoris, the Jansai are angry, threatening to withhold the caravans that bring goods to Samaria’s cities. Obadiah has much more charm than the strong but imperious Gabriel, so he is the logical choice to negotiate with the Jansai. But after Obadiah’s first meeting with the Jansai leader, he is shot down in mid-flight by a mysterious weapon that burns a hole through his wings. Stranded in the desert, he faces certain death until help comes from an unexpected source.
Rebekah is a young Jansai woman who chafes at her tribe’s oppressive attitude towards its women, knowing that resistance is futile. Like all females, she is forbidden to be seen in public, converse with a man who is not a family member or have any choice in her future husband. During a rare family hunting trip in the desert, she is sent to get water and encounters the badly wounded Obadiah. Breaking all the rules, she nurses Obadiah and forms a strong bond with him. Rebekah’s bold actions endanger her life, but the star-crossed lovers can’t stay away from each other.
Elizabeth’s and Rebekah’s paths only cross once, but their arcs tell very different stories about two women who challenge the life they’ve been given. In many ways, Elizabeth is the more intriguing character. She starts out a bitter, shallow Cinderella who greedily seeks status the only way she knows. By the end of the book, she has been transformed into a generous, courageous woman whose newly-found self-confidence allows her to appreciate a potential suitor who before had no part in her ambitious dreams.
Rebekah’s story is more dramatic; she’s literally risking her life every time she meets Obadiah. But although their romance has an exciting Romeo-and-Juliet quality, their trysts veer dangerously close to becoming tedious and repetitive. Although Rebekah is courageous enough to pursue the relationship, she is not able to be proactive about it, and the ultimate challenge that she faces is never under her control.
Shinn sets the novel at a time of great change for Samaria, as a crooked reign has given way to a new era of leadership that is accompanied by much uncertainty. I would have appreciated more narrative that explored these new political and sociological realities, but Shinn chooses to make the stories more personal, portraying the changes through her characters’ eyes. As always, Shinn’s world-building skills give the reader a complete picture of Samaria’s diverse geography and people, highlighted by the unique angels who are the only link to the mysterious Jovah.
If you’re seeking thought-provoking, fully-realized fantasy romance, this series flies above the rest of the pack. Start with Archangel, then pick up this book, and once you’re hooked search out Shinn’s most thought-provoking Samaria novel, Jovah’s Angel.