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.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1/Stand Alone
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (November 15, 2022)
Length: 4 hrs and 25 mins
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.