Audiobook Review: Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1/Stand Alone

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (November 15, 2022)

Length: 4 hrs and 25 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Dion Graham

While I didn’t love Tread of Angels, it was definitely better than I thought it would be. Having come to this from Rebecca Roanhorse’s novels and her more epic works, I obviously wasn’t expecting something on the same level or scale from this bite-sized novella, but for its purposes—providing a quick and entertaining tale of mystery set in a Western-inspired fantasy world of angels and demons—it was enough.

Our story begins in Goetia, a once quiet mountain town which has seen a boom of visitors traveling in from far and wide ever since word has spread that its mines are filled with Divinity, a powerful element used as fuel for the latest technologies. But because the source of Divinity is the body of a fallen angel who fell to Earth during the Heaven’s War, only those descended from his rebels, called the Fallen, have the ability to detect the precious element. For this reason, the Fallen find themselves tolerated in society but they occupy the lowest rungs of socioeconomic ladder which is dominated by the ruling class made up of Virtues (from the powerful Order of the Archangels) and the Elect (those of angelic descent).

Our protagonist Celeste is a Fallen. As children though, she and her blood sister Mariel were raised apart in two very different worlds. While Celeste was raised by her father among the Elect, Mariel remained with their mother and grew up in the slums of Goetia. They reunited as adults, working at a local gaming house where Celeste deals cards at the tables and Mariel headlines as a singer bringing in the customers with her beautiful voice. But one day, the two women’s lives are turned upside down when Mariel is accused of murdering a Virtue. Determined to prove her sister’s innocence, Celeste must take on the role of Advocatus Dioboli (Devil’s Advocate) to gather the evidence required to clear Mariel’s name and save her from execution.

There’s so much to love here, not least of it being the world-building. The novella format doesn’t do it justice. You’re meant to soak in this setting, immerse yourself in it, savor all its descriptions and details. But because Tread of Angels is so story-driven, story developments and character interactions set the pace, leaving readers inadequate time to fully appreciate the sheer scope of the world Roanhorse has created.

Still, I can never resist a fantasy Western setting. The references to the goldrush and the ye olde frontier town are obvious, but I also enjoyed the dash of steampunk which breathed some fresh air into the world. That said, Goetia can also be grim place, especially if you’re a Fallen. No matter how or where you’re raised, the burden of your ancestry stays with wherever you go, as Celeste learns once she sets out on her mission to defend her sister and witnesses the class disparity and discrimination for herself.

Then there’s the mystery plot. While it’s a fairly standard one, I was still surprised around midway through when things took an unexpected turn towards an ending I hadn’t predicted. But since it’s such a short book, Celeste’s investigation is rather quick, involving some digging around for clues and interviewing people here and there. We also take a few detours to visit Abraxas, a former general for the rebels in the Heaven’s War and also Celeste’s ex-lover whom I still have mixed feelings about because I’m not entirely sure his character was all that good or necessary. In a longer novel I think he would feel less out of place, but right now I just get the sense Roanhorse might have just thrown Abraxas in for the sake of having some sexy times.

And then we come to Celeste herself, who isn’t the easiest protagonist to sympathize with, but I also understand that it’s likely by design. Of course, it’s possible to get past her brashness, her impulsiveness, and her stubbornness to enjoy the story, but again, I have a feeling it would be a lot easier if this hadn’t been so short.

Bottom line, Roanhorse absolutely does her best work when she’s given more room to develop her characters, and honestly, I think the same can also be said of her storytelling and worldbuilding. Tread of Angels was a good read, but I can’t help but wonder how much better it could have been as a longer book.

Audiobook Comments:  I very much enjoyed the narration by Dion Graham, who really nailed Celeste’s personality with her reading style and voice. The length also meant it wasn’t a huge time commitment, and the audiobook made for quick and easy listen.

15 Comments on “Audiobook Review: Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse”

  1. I have not read it, yet, but having sampled some of Roanhorse’s works I can agree with you on the fact that a full-sized novel might have worked better, since this author can create amazing worlds but needs the space to develop them as they deserve.

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  2. I just wasn’t interested in this for some reason, and I agree, I do love her longer works and series where you have time to get to know the characters.

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    • I don’t think I was that interested in picking this one up to start either, as I prefer longer books in general and especially when it comes to Roanhorse’s work. But then I think I found out about the Steampunky Western setting and that was what made me cave 🙂

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  3. Some of the description here had me thinking of a series I’ve yet to read but would like to, the Dominion of the Fallen series by Aliette de Bodard. It seems to also be about fallen angels and a war in heaven, though I think it takes place in Europe. Having one take place in the old west sounds interesting and not something I’ve read.

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    • Oh I have read those books! They do have similar themes with angels and demons etc, but yes, the setting is post-apocalyptic and I believe it takes place in France. I also found them to be a bit dry. Very atmospheric but the story was very slow, but likely by design since it had that whole moody broody thing going. If you do get a chance to check out the series, I would be curious to hear what you think.

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  4. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 12/18/22: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  5. I actually enjoyed this one more than I expected (given that it’s fairly short which isn’t normally my thing). I just think I was in the perfect mood and I would love for the author to return to this world but perhaps with a longer story.
    Lynn 😀

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