YA Weekend: Angelfall by Susan Ee
Series: Penryn & the End of Days #1
Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural, Post-Apocalyptic
Publisher: Feral Dream (May 2011)
Author Info: www.SusanEe.com
Wendy’s Rating ~ 4 of 5 stars
Angelfall is a refreshing and welcome take on the end of the world.
Young adult novels are not usually to my taste, mainly because authors tend to forget the “adult” aspect of the equation and give me self-centred protagonists that are far more whiny, stubborn, and petulant than the young adult I was, or the ones I know. In other words, they are bloody annoying. But when an author respectfully balances the negative aspects of young adulthood with the caring, determination, maturity, responsibility, and self-awareness I’ve seen in many teens, then I am more likely to enjoy the reading experience. Susan Ee is officially on my list of authors who achieve the latter, which means this is a young adult book that I would happily recommend to adult and young adult readers alike. But I would also recommend this book because, well, it’s fantastic.
When I started reading it, I was embroiled in a lengthy conversation about apocalyptic fiction and its tired tropes. The angry roving gangs, the hopelessness, the reliance on (gun) violence, the utter fail of humanity to pull up its boot straps and survive. Not that Angelfall doesn’t include some of these elements, which are reasonably logical progressions for when the world as we know it falls apart. But Ee doesn’t use them merely as crutches, and, more importantly, she goes well beyond.
First off, there’s the whole reason for the apocalypse: angels. Asshole angels who are happily destroying our world. Why? Because God apparently wills it, apparently, but as the story goes along, it becomes evident that there is most likely far more chaos within the chaos than there is any order. This is how Penryn comes to know Raffe, an angel stripped of his wings, whom she saves from the other angels who want to literally rip him apart. As much as Penryn doesn’t want to be rescuing the enemy, Raffe becomes her only key to finding her wheelchair-bound young sister, who is stolen by the angels that attacked him. Penryn also has to deal with worries about her mother, who suffers from schizophrenia.
“That even though her love often manifests in ways that a mentally healthy person couldn’t understand—might even declare abusive—that doesn’t diminish the fact that she does care.”
Mental health is a subject that is not often touched on in fiction, or if it is, it is treated poorly, reducing the people who suffer from it to objects of fear or amusement. Through Penryn’s eyes, Ee shows us a woman who is quite clearly insane, but who also loves her children dearly, and is even aware of how much of a danger she is to them. Her mother encourages Penryn to take every possible self-defence class available—which comes in handy when the world ends. Having to deal with both a mentally unstable woman and a physically disabled child puts a lot on Penryn’s shoulders, but her loyalty and sense of responsibility never once falters. Nor does Ee reduce her family members to mere caricatures, particularly her mother. Penryn isn’t afraid to refer to her mother as crazy, and knows just how her actions might appear to the more rationally minded. However, she also shows a lot of respect and affection for her mother, and appreciation for the things she’s learned and is capable of because of her illness. In a world where “they” really are out to get you now, Penryn’s mother’s paranoia suddenly becomes very helpful. To an extent.
Penryn’s seemingly hopeless mission to rescue her sister parallels Raffe’s hope to have his wings re-attached—as in, they share a destination and need each other to survive. Though there are hints of attraction, their bond grows into something far deeper and more touching as the story progresses.
Along their journey, they are captured by a small resistance group. Unlike a lot of the apocalypse fiction I’ve watched or read lately, there is no evil dictator in charge, or inappropriate rules and practices. In fact, the leader, Obi, is as respectful as he is strategically-minded, and the goals of his group go well beyond simply hoarding all the supplies and keeping outsiders out.
My only complaint is that, other than Penryn (and to an extent, her mother, simply because her mother is uncontrollable), women are rather two dimensional, and relegated to very stereotypical roles. While Obi values Penryn’s skills and wants her as one of his soldiers, the rest of the women at the compound exist to wash laundry. At the angels’ stronghold, women survive by whoring themselves out to the angels. And several times Penryn’s jealousy over Raffe is sparked by the intrusion of some catty woman attempting to claim him.
Otherwise, in my epic apocalypse chat, the consensus seemed to be that end of the world stories that still offer hope and humanity, even at the darkest hour, were favoured over the more bleak tales. Angelfall is a refreshing and welcome take on the end of the world.