The Literary Horizon: Twelve, Angelology

Vampires, angels, and nuns–I think there’s something for everyone on this week’s Literary Horizon!

Twelve by Jasper Kent

Zmyeevich had remained standing and now began to speak in very precise, but very formal and strangely accented French. His voice had a darkness to it that seemed to emit not from his throat but from deep in his torso. Somewhere inside him it was as if giant millstones were turning against one another, or as though the lid were being slowly dragged aside to open a stone sarcophagus…

On 12th June 1812, Napoleon’s massive grande armee forded the River Niemen and so crossed the Rubicon – its invasion of Russia had begun. In the face of superior numbers and tactics, the imperial Russian army began its retreat. But a handful of Russian officers – veterans of Borodino – are charged with trying to slow the enemy’s inexorable march on Moscow. Indeed, one of their number has already set the wheels of resistance in motion, having summoned the help of a band of mercenaries from the outermost fringes of Christian Europe. Comparing them to the once-feared Russian secret police – the Oprichniki – the name sticks. As rumours of plague travelling west from the Black Sea reach the Russians, the Oprichniki – but twelve in number – arrive. Preferring to work alone, and at night, the twelve prove brutally, shockingly effective against the French. But one amongst the Russians, Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, is unnerved by the Oprichniki’s ruthlessness… as he comes to understand the true, horrific nature of these strangers, he wonders at the nightmare they’ve unleashed in their midst… Full of authentic historical detail and heart-stopping supernatural moments, and boasting a page-turning narrative, Twelve is storytelling at its most original and exciting.

Like a lot of the fantasy and science fiction I read, Twelve has a fantastic hook–Napoleonic vampires! Setting it in Russia during the early 1800s makes the hook even better; I don’t know a lot about Russia in that time period. While vampires in period settings are nothing new, Russian vampires are certainly something different than your average Eastern European gentleman. But a hook can only carry you so –is it worth it?

Reviews are glowing for Twelve. I’m not quite sure what’s going on with its release history–I think it was released in the UK first, but apparently there’s an American paperback that came out at the beginning of 2009. Still, that just means that there’s plenty of reviews across the board. Robert Thompson at Fantasy Book Critic thinks it’s flawless, and Fantasy Book Review praises Kent’s judicious hand with gore. It definitely sounds like a winner.

Twelve was apparently released on January 1, 2009.

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

A thrilling epic about an ancient clash reignited in our time- between a hidden society and heaven’s darkest creatures

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.
Genesis 6:5

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.

I’m fond of nuns, and I’m even fonder of nuns who kick butt. A nun versus evil angels? Sign me up, sister! (Or should that be “sign me up, Sister”?) The fact that Evangeline is a nun also allows for something I rarely see in thrillers of any stripe–female characters in female spaces. There is a test known as the Bechdel Test (named after the author of “Dykes To Watch Out For”, who invented it) that essentially tests the strength of female presence in a work. A work must “[include] at least two women, who have at least one conversation with each other about something other than a man or men“. Passing this test doesn’t make a work any more or less feminist, but it definitely says something about women in fiction. The odds are definitely on Angelology‘s side to pass the Bechdel Test.

Reviews are sparse, both because of the far off release date and the book’s increasing fame–the film rights have already been purchased by Sony in an apparently vicious bidding war. Will Smith is set to co-produce. I imagine this is an attempt to recreate the success of The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons. Marie Claire, of all publications, has given it an approving, if brief, review and Publishers Weekly gives it a starred review, calling it an “intelligent” thriller with lots of interesting Biblical lore. I’m definitely going to give this one a try.

Angelology will be released on March 9.

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