Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Principles of Angels by Jaine Fenn - review

Principles of Angels
Jaine Fenn
cover-at first glance, this cover looks a bit run of the mill. But then look a little closer, especially after reading a bit of the book (
one of the reasons I love holding a print book - the ability to simply turn my hand and see the cover) and then you'll see how much the cover matches the story. There's the arid, almost uninhabitable planet. There's this flexible dome, and within the dome you can see the suggestion of a structure. This is where the story takes place.
Principles of Angels is a gift from a wonderful person all the way 'across the pond' from me. It took me a while to get to it, but that's part of the fun of getting books for gifts - they wait for us to read. (Thank you very much, Wonderful British Woman - loved the book)
I am not sure that I can explain this novel well enough, or even the intricate world that the characters live in. There's this structure above an uninhabitable planet that is ruled in turns by three separate factions. It's a mysterious place, that seems self contained. Things are recycled - even urine. Some of the little details are a bit squicky - but this does not take from the story. Anyway I'll try to explain just a bit in my wandering way.
The society is ruled by a consortium, there is a prime minister type that keeps things running smoothly (as far as government) and one of his jobs is to assign assassinations to an "Angel". These assassinations are voted on by the governing body, usually when a member of the consortium has fallen in public favor. The consequence is death by assassination. The assassin is an Angel (not really an angel but one who is given the power to float, to fly and has ninja like skills and weapons). These Angels are both revered and feared. They are also considered "line mothers". The whole thing is intricate and can be a bit confusing but I just keep reading.
This brings me to the fact that in this structure are a few levels...the upper level for the rich and priviledged, and the lower level for the others. The people who have to struggle for a living, the prostitutes and pickpockets etc. There is a whole separate society in this second level, which oddly - is where the Angels live. This level has webbing and catwalks, all the dwellings have holes or openings in the middle of the rooms for lowering wastes and bringing up water, etc. This is where one of the main characters live - Taro. As mentioned in the blurb of the book - his line mother (who is really his aunt) is an Angel who has been murdered. Murder of an Angel is unheard of. This is just a small part of a intricate (my new word for the day) plot.
Visiting this structure, the upper part at least, is a singer from another planet. Elarn is on tour, singing deeply religious songs and comes from a very religious planet. She also has another reason for being on tour.
The paths of Taro and Elarn come together by accident after Taro unwittingly ruins an assassination attempt by an angel of one of the city's rulers. After that, things become complicated in more ways than one until at the end of the story there is such a twist, such a interesting twist - that I just have to read more. There is way more to the plot than the things I mentioned - there is a history of Sidhe - considered ancient and died off. Part of the history of this planet is the long ago migration of people from Earth - which is long gone.
Once I was able to concentrate solely on this novel, I found myself absorbed by it. The different characters had distinctly different voices. Jaine Fenn did a wonderful job of drawing these characters, making them stand out from each other. I also enjoyed the dialog (one of my pet peeves) - found each character's way of speech consistant and "fitting" each person. Written in third person - I also found the narration interesting and not once was I bored with info-dumps or huge chunks of explanations. There may have been a few things that seemed a bit involved, but I was able to keep reading and eventually understand what was happening, or understand the different levels of people/society. I think the author put a lot of thought into building her world and her different societies and fringe societies. I also enjoyed the way she let the reader learn little bits here and there without overwhelming me with too many details and long explanations.
As soon as I finished Principles of Angels (and of course when I had a few bucks in the bank) I ordered the second novel in this trilogy (or is it a four-bit now?). According to Fenn's website, the second book takes place at the same time as the first, though on a different planet. The third book has the characters of both first and second books coming together for a story. Looking forward to it.
Note, that if you're squeamish about prostitution or drug use, there is some of that going on. For me, that's not any worse than reading about murder and violence, though - so it doesn't bother me to read about, especially when it seems to be an accepted part of life in a story's society.
Very interesting read that has me wanting to read more. Just different enough to satisfy my SciFi cravings and Fantasy cravings at the same time.

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