Hmmmm. This book is like a ninja, sneaking up on you in its purposefully donned disguise, innocently masquerading as one of those selling-like-hotcakes teen paranormal postapocalyptic romances¹. But once it's safely past your defences, once you are honestly ready to relentlessly mock it for being no different than the multitudes of other useless tomes, it drops the unremarkable disguise and finally reveals that yes, it indeed has a real heart.
¹ Just look at the description for this book. Ugh. It sounds exactly like any other book dead-set on robbing susceptible teens out of their lunch money by featuring a hot supernatural hero - but don't be fooled. It's actually pretty good - or at least quite entertaining.
Apparently it just needed that pretense to squeeze its way into our looking-for-the-next-Hunger-Games market. Can't blame a book for trying.
With few exceptions, I don't buy into the abovementioned market craze. Most of the time it's really not worth it. But this book, despite its generic-sounding description, got such lovely reviews from the readers I trust that I caved in and started reading it - and only looked up from the page in a sort of a daze several hours later.
The setting is my stomping ground - California's Silicon Valley. Time period - 6 weeks after bloodthirsty angels destroyed human civilization for no apparent reason. The protagonist is a 17-year-old Penryn (named so after an exit on Highway 80 - this fact alone can give you a hint about the stability of her home life with her seriously mentally ill mother). In an attempt to protect her little sister (yes, the resonating scream of Katniss Everdeen of the "I VOLUNTEER!!!" fame must have reached her heart and soul) she accidentally saves the life of a newly-wingless angel, and eventually teams up with this enemy of her species on a joint quest that is supposed to benefit both of them.
True to the genre's tropes, there - of course! - is a budding romance between the two¹, but thankfully it never really gets in the way of the story (at least yet; we'll see about the future books in the series)
¹ Unfortunately, Angelfall fails to escape the cringeworthy eyerolling moments of the heroine being dumbstruck by the enemy's physical gorgeousness at the lest appropriate moments - but hey, nothing can be perfect, right? (Except for Raffe, apparently)
And so the story sets in motion, leading us to the crazed 'scientific' experiments, Resistance compounds, pseudo-1920s Gatsby-like parties, schizophrenic mothers, cannibalism and yummy catfood (which I insist should indeed be viewed as an acceptable nutrition source in the face of the post-angelic apocalypse).
Penryn Young, our protagonist, is not a dainty flower, nossir! She has been trained in martial arts for five years (sad reason: her mentally ill mother apparently wanting her child to be well-prepared in case she, mother, gets violent).
This training prepares her well for using her five-foot-two underfed body as a perfect force of waif-fu - and at least I can buy it given the length of the time she spent training (I'm looking at you, Luke Skywalker, and your almost-no-time spent with Yoda for your training. Also - Tris from 'Divergent', you are another target of my stink-eye). Penryn's skills are quite necessary in this new world order where nobody is particularly eager to break a fight between her hundred or so pounds and a two-hundred-pound very enraged man. Also, this is a world where archangels may just need "a little help from their friends" that at the moment only happen to include short skinny teen girls with martial arts training. Basically, she often crosses over from a Bond Girl to just Bond. James Bond.
"When you're small enough to have to look up at everyone around you, there's no such thing as a dirty fight. That's a new motto for me. I think I'll keep it.”
Penryn is quite smart and resourceful, kind and loyal, brave and determined. She strategizes passably well and keeps her libido in check even when faced with the specimen of utmost male beauty (priorities: fighting over swooning. Didn't I say she was smart?) Put her in the same room as Katniss Everdeen - and they probably would team up kicking some serious ass in no time (yes, I'm a fan of Katniss, why'd you ask?).
As for the angels - well, they are an interesting source of evil here. I usually eyeroll at angels¹ and demons² in books (my pesky heathen nature, I guess).
¹ Except for Aziraphale in The Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman - because he's not just an angel but also a rare book dealer. With a cool demon friend who drives a vintage Bentley.
² My disdain for angels and demons also applies to Dan Brown's book by the same name. But the reason is because it's very poorly written.
But here they are ridiculous clueless dressed-up-as-gangsters-at-a-party thuggish creatures, and I kinda love it, for reasons I can barely fathom.
Basically I imagine them looking sorta like this, except for with wings ;)
The story itself is quite a fun ride - reasonably well-written, fast-paced and without any significant roadbumps along the way. It had some elements that I loved - what happens to little Paige was in a way predictable but still effective; and Penryn's mother - I'm still not sure of my feelings towards the way she and her illness were portrayed, but at least it's something new in the books of this genre. I also enjoyed the lack of stereotypical things that we come to expect from this genre: plain jane protagonist, stereotypical mean girls (well, they were there but without much focus given to them), over-reliance on the male lead as the source of all awesomeness and strength.
Yes, it has plenty of drawbacks as well. There's the aforementioned instances of lovestruck gazing at the male lead (who is shirtless because of reasons); the worldbuilding that is not that developed and has quite a few holes in its structure; the predictability of quite a few events; the strange constant appearances of the mother that seemed to be necessitated by the plot but felt tacked on; the present-tense first-person narration that frequently grates on the nerves; the waif-fu; and so on.
But what's important is that even in the face of these drawbacks this book still provides a fun refreshing read on a summer evening.
3.75 stars and rounding up.