Angelology: A Novel
by Danielle Trussoni (Author Website, Novel Website – great fun to page thru!)
Viking – Hardcover – $27.95 (heavily discounted at Amazon and elsewhere)
Genre: Supernatural Suspense
This is my first foray into the realm of supernatural or religious suspense. Angelology was a fascinating look at the possible fate of the offspring of Angels, referred to in the Bible as Nephilim.
Sister Evangeline is a young nun at the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in upstate New York. A request through the mail from a young art scholar named Verlaine sends her searching through the convent archives, where she finds a fascinating letter. Verlaine works for a man named Percival, who quickly reveals himself as a monster.
I’d hate to say too much because the plot thrives on secrets, and I don’t want to spoil any of them. The blurb itself gives very little away:
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them.
Sister Evangeline was just a girl when her father entrusted her to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in upstate New York. Now, at twenty-three, her discovery of a 1943 letter from the famous philanthropist Abigail Rockefeller to the late mother superior of Saint Rose Convent plunges Evangeline into a secret history that stretches back a thousand years: an ancient conflict between the Society of Angelologists and the monstrously beautiful descendants of angels and humans, the Nephilim.
For the secrets these letters guard are desperately coveted by the once-powerful Nephilim, who aim to perpetuate war, subvert the good in humanity, and dominate mankind. Generations of angelologists have devoted their lives to stopping them, and their shared mission, which Evangeline has long been destined to join, reaches from her bucolic abbey on the Hudson to the apex of insular wealth in New York, to the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris and the mountains of Bulgaria.
Rich in history, full of mesmerizing characters, and wondrously conceived, Angelology blends biblical lore, the myth of Orpheus and the Miltonic visions of Paradise Lost into a riveting tale of ordinary people engaged in a battle that will determine the fate of the world.
The research in Angelology was fascinating. The various characters uses angel lore derived from the Bible and other sources known as “apocrypha”, which, according to Wikipedia, is books that the Christian church considers useful but is not divinely inspired. The plot also depends on a literal interpretation of Creation and the Flood, which in my experience is an unusual plot feature outside of Christian fiction. However, I would in no way categorize this as a Christian novel; rather it is a novel that treats sources such as the Bible and the apocryphal works with equal respect and relevance, along with an unexpected connection to the myth of Orpheus.
Angelology also employs a technique I’m seeing more and more often: it mixes first and third person. The first section of the novel, which is from Evangeline’s, Percival’s and Verlaine’s point of view, is in third person. Then, after a long and enlightening discussion with a fellow nun named Sister Celestine, the point-of-view switches to Celestine’s. It is a first-person account of her experience with the Second Angelological Expedition in the 40s. During this section, a series of readings from an account from the First Angelological Expedition is read, which takes place in the 900s AD. The final point of view returns to the above three, along with one or two others.
This is a very long novel, with a lot of backstory and reader education. In order to appreciate the story, you not only have to know all about the Flood, but also about the events after the Flood and the bloodlines that sprang from Noah’s sons. Ms. Trussoni manages to make all this interesting and engaging — not at all like a religion lesson. I liked all of the main characters, and I even managed to feel sympathy for Percival, even though he was utterly ruthless.
One of the few problems I had with this novel was the ending. The angelologists (including at this point, Evangeline and Verlaine) must go to four separate places as indicated by four very obscure clues in the letters from Mrs. Rockefeller. Percival, who until this point had yet to succeed in a single task his family set him on, suddenly and without explanation is able to out-maneuver the angelologists at almost every turn. I could see how they were able to be betrayed at one point, but I am unable to account for Percival knowing where they will meet to find the final item. I did enjoy the final struggle between Percival and Evangaline, even though Evangeline’s final fate was by now, not a surprise. I also would have liked to seen the parts that were set in the 40s feel more like a novel from the 40s. But the plot was so nonstop at this point that this is not a true critique. I just love it when authors include those atmospheric touches that make it really feel like you have gone back to that time period (a reason I love historical fiction).
The ending gave me a jolt until I realized there was probably a sequel planned. I do wish publishers would indicate whether a novel is part of a series somewhere on the cover or the title page. Although the main conflict is resolved here, there are a great many unanswered questions and one of the characters goes through a major change that only made me want to read more. And that was a good thing, because by this time, I had been reading for weeks.
Angelology was an instant New York Times bestseller, and it is easy to see why. I think Christians and non-Christians can enjoy this book, because on the one hand the treatment of Biblical lore is respectful, and on the other hand, it is not trying to proselytize. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. If you like plot-rich novels with storylines that slowly reveal themselves over hundreds of pages, if you like secret societies with secret expeditions (and who doesn’t?), and if you like stories drenched in research, then this would be a great time to catch this novel and take advantage of all the discounts. (Due to the size of it, I certainly wouldn’t want to attempt to read it as a paperback.) I think Ms. Trussoni has gotten off to a brilliant start.