A tale of Heaven and Hell in ‘Covenant’

covenantCovenant by Sabrina Benulis
Harper Voyager, April 1st, 2014 (Urban/Paranormal Fantasy)*

My rating: Meh. Liked the place, but the food was bad.

Covenant is the second installment in a series about a young woman, the subject of a prophecy that foretells the end of the world. In the prophecy, she is an unknown redheaded person whose destiny will manifest as either the Archon, or the Ruin (unsurprisingly, if she’s the Ruin, the world ends). But Angela Mathers is also just a young girl. She lives on an island isolated from the rest of the world, in a sunless city called Luz. There, she attends school with her best friend, Sophie, and other redheaded children, who have all been exiled to the island so the Powers That Be (that is, the human ones) can keep an eye on them, find out who the Archon is, and kill her. The school is recovering from the devastating events of the last book. Angela and Sophie try to put off destiny, but at the Christmas Ball it comes calling – one of the redheads has brought his sister (Angela’s friend) back from the dead, and Sophie is kidnapped in the confusion that follows. Angela begins a quest through the labyrinth of the underworld in order to retrieve her, and in the process faces danger and betrayal.

This book felt like a loosely woven sweater, with pulled threads peeking out everywhere, and holes in places. The worldbuilding could have been tighter, more realistic. Throughout, the unanswered or unconvincingly answered questions made it hard to believe in the world. How does Luz really fit into the human world, exiled as it is? Who is Sophie, and why is the story of the Book of Raziel so complicated? Especially: what is the point of the kidnapping of Sophie, and the luring of Angela to Lucifel? Some of the answers to these questions are easy to figure out, but the weak development of the mythology, the backstory, the context stood out. I never really understood these things, although I wonder what a re-read of Archon would do to improve that.

The history behind the conflict between the angels Israfel (troubled ruler of Heaven) and Lucifel (confined ruler of Hell) was revealed slowly as Angela fought her way to the end of her journey, but it didn’t really seem to fit. The addition of the Father, the Father’s role in events, the history between Israfel and Lucifel, and Angela’s journey felt superfluous and disconnected.

Angela’s journey through Hell is fraught with tension and danger, as she races ahead of an army of the undead and matches wits with the keeper of the labyrinth. It was exciting, and the pace never lagged. There were some twists and suspenseful moments that had me guessing and turning the pages. However, I felt distanced from her and from what she was going through. Part of this is because I never really became invested in following Angela – I never really empathized with her. Also, I think this section was so quick to read because Hell itself never had much substance. Angela’s journey takes very little time (and relatively few pages), and the landscape never felt immediate. To put it another way, instead of riding along with Angela on her journey, I read a book about Angela riding through Hell.

Overall, the scope of the novel felt too big. As exciting and adventurous as it is, the multiple perspectives, three-realm setting, and loosely connected plot meant I never really felt fully engrossed in the novel. Lastly, there is a lack of immediacy to the plot development, characterization, narration, and worldbuilding that makes the novel feel quite two-dimensional.

Read-alikes

Sharon Shinn has written an excellent, unique series in which angels are the meeting point between technology and faith. Her angels are realistic, believable, and flawed. The world is beautifully realized. In Archangel, the time has come for a new Archangel. The god has chosen Gabriel, and further decreed that he must wed a stranger named Rachel. This is their story.

Archangel (Samaria Published Order #1)

N.K. Jemisin‘s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a deeply evocative, fantastical story about another young woman who gets tangled up in the lives of dark and light gods. These three gods resemble the three angels in the Archon series. Yeine Darr, the heroine, is dunked into dangerous political waters when she becomes the surprise heir to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

And finally, if you’re dying (har har) for a tour of an underworld, I point you in the direction of Ekaterina Sedia‘s The Secret History of Moscow. With a feel that is similar to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (also highly recommended!), a setting in Moscow, a cast absolutely filled with magical and mythical creatures, and an intrepid pair of protagonists, you’ll feel like you’re traveling with Galina and Yakov. It’s also a bit creepy (in a good way). And romantic. Just, read it.

The Secret History of Moscow

*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

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