Book: “Angel Mage” by Garth Nix
Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, October 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.
A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.
Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.
But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.
The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfill her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else. . .
Review: I’m not caught up with all of the books in the “Sabriel” series (know that’s not really the name, but it might as well be), so it’s been quite a while since I’ve read a new book by Garth Nix. So when I saw this title pop up on Edelweiss+ it seemed like a perfect opportunity to revisit a past favorite.
Long ago, Ystara, the homeland of the patron archangel Pallenial, fell amidst horror and terror. It was suspected that a powerful angelic mage, Liliath had something to do with this fall, but no one knows the truth of it. After many years pass, however, Liliath miraculously returns, still young, still powerful, still driven to accomplish a plan only known to her. Caught up in her ambitions are not only the remnants of the Ystaraian people, now shunned by the countries they live in as refugees, but four specific young people. Not knowing why they are connected or what Liliath wants from them, a medical student, a scholar, a musketeer, and a scribe must work together to not only discover their own role, but help aid or thwart Liliath in her grand plans.
This is another great example of a lesser used source story (similar to “The Republic” and “The Lady and the Tiger” that we seen earlier). Here, Nix is clearly drawing from “The Three Musketeers,” and it’s pretty excellent. He perfectly finds the balancing point between making enough references to the original as to make it recognizable to most readers and layering so much new world-building and plot that the story remains feeling completely unique. In many ways, it seems that Nix had an original idea, world, and magic system teed up to go and then looked through some of his own fan favorites and discovered “The Three Musketeers.” This is in no way a criticism of the story. More so, it’s a testament to his skill that he can superimpose favored elements from another story in a way that makes it clear he is largely wanting to just play in that world while still ending up with a book that so completely stands on its own as unalike anything I’ve read before.
The “Mustketeer” elements are most evident in the style of writing, especially in the dialogue between the characters. It’s hard to put my finger on it for this review; it’s more a “know it when you read it” kind of thing. The culture is also heavily influenced by the France that we see in that book, with much of the style of dress, honor system, and conflicting political and religious powers ringing as familiar. These political/religious conflicts were particularly intriguing. Nix spends a good amount of time setting up the different power players in the story and their differing connections to the angelic magic that plays such a large role in society. And each of our four main characters has a unique connection to these divisions and their differing priorities.
All four of the characters were very well-drawn. There is excellent diversity between them all in most every way you can ask for. I enjoyed reading all of their sections equally pretty much, but I will say that I particularly enjoyed the portions that dealt with Agnez, our musketeer in the making. For those who read my Animorphs reviews, Agnez is a very “Rachel-like” character: she’s brave, a bit reckless, and has a clear view of right/wrong/and what should be done, regardless of others’ perceptions of it. She’s also the most clearly connected to the original Musketeers, with the same charming bravado.
The story is also blessedly free of a romance between any of these four members. I love a good romance at the heart of my story, but I must confess that I’m pretty burned out on these YA fantasy ensemble stories (usually heists), particularly with the romances at the heart of them. They’ve gotten incredibly predictable and almost farcical in their similarities to each other. And at the heart of each are yawn-inducing, lazy romances that are built completely on the fact that they are what readers expect to find in these stories. No work is done to make any couple/pairing particularly relatable or believable; it just is because they know that’s what readers expect. So it was a breath of fresh air to open this book and have the more sibling-like relationships between these group members laid out fairly early in the story, immediately putting to rest any mental predictions on romantic pairs that the reader may already be forming.
I also enjoyed how much time we got to spend with Liliath. In many ways, she’s just as much a main character as the four others. We learn her motivations, her strengths, as well as the ambitions and single-mindedness that drive her. We see her plans play out while the four main characters must piece things together, all while we, the reader, are still not clear on Liliath’s endgame. This makes for a nice mixture of mystery and tension as the story plays out.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. It’s definitely different than anything I’ve read before, and anyone going into with expectations derived from what’s popular in YA fantasy right now may be disappointed. This a slower moving story with world-building at its heart. The connections to “The Three Musketeers” will also be appreciated depending on the reader’s familiarity with that story. Readers looking for a unique, fresh-feeling YA ensemble fantasy, this is a great place to start!
Rating 8: Enough hints of “The Three Musketeers” to add some extra fun, but stands on its own with an incredibly unique and fresh world.
“Angel Mage” is a new book, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it should be on “Angels & Demons.”
Find “Angel Mage” at your library using WorldCat!