Fiction Reviews

Angel of Death

(2010) J. Robert King, Angry Robot, £7.99, pbk, 413pp, ISBN 978-0-007-32797-3

US born J. Robert King (not to be confused with a British born author of the same name who wrote Bruno Lipshitz and the Disciples of Dogma) is well known for his contributions to the RPG (role playing game) world. His fictional books are set in both the realms Dungeons and Dragons, including the Ravenloft series (1992-3), and Magic the Gathering (1992 to 2009). His other books include The Mad Trilogy (2000-3), Suicidals Anonymous, Humors (both 2006) and The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls (2008), which is based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. His most recent novel is Death’s Disciples (2010).

The novel starts with the gruesome exploits of a serial killer (Keith McFarland) and a beautiful female police officer (Donna Leland) who is on the trail of this killer. However a supernatural biblical entity known as an 'Angel of Death' is watching over the both of them, adding some grim exploits of his own (some of these the author portrays first) so introducing the above characters in to the story. This Angel has got plans in mind for the both of them.

As the storyline develops, things start to go wrong for the Angel when he unwittingly falls in love with Donna Leland thus throwing the natural order of his world into chaos. The Angel finds himself somewhat cast down from his elemental form and becomes flesh (i.e. human). The question is, can he survive in the human world under human laws and how can he redeem himself, restore the natural balance of his world and become an Angel of Death Again?

This novel of death and forbidden love is mainly set in the Chicago-Milwaukee areas in the near past up to the present day. Woven with the occasional flashback to a biblical past (including Angels) that ties into the developing storyline. However, these flashbacks are only based on some of the characters in the Bible and their storylines. Yet the two biblical quotes in the book are correct.

The style of the novel is clear, straightforward and makes for easy reading. The story itself is told through both the eyes and narration of the two main characters, Donna Leland and the Angel of Death. This is one of the positive aspects to the book because it adds depth to the characters making them more than two-dimensional. The author includes their thoughts and feelings within the situations that they find themselves in, to the point that the reader can actually identify with them. In other words he brings them to life by making them human. This gives a sharp realistic edge to the novel.

Once the story gets going the pace quickens and the plot becomes very gripping. The reader will find it difficult to put the book down, which is another good aspect of the novel. This is also true towards the end of the book. However the pace slows down and sags in the middle. What made it difficult for me personally to read is that it crosses a genre (courtroom drama): I am not fond of courtroom dramas; this is more to do with myself as a reader rather than the fault of the author. But on a positive note the pace and storyline picks up again and it soon became as gripping as the start of the novel right through to the end. The overall plot is very strong and well focused and this really helps in keeping the reader's interest.

Angel of Death is a cleverly written novel because it works on many different levels by crossing genres from crime to horror. On the one hand, it works very well as a psychological crime novel with serial killers hiding in the shadows, police profiling and a well-described courtroom drama. Where both serial killer and Angel of Death are mixed into one. There are aspects of pure psychological horror experienced through the realisations of the victims and portrayed through gruesome Crime Scene descriptions. On the other hand, it works as a supernatural fantasy because of the portrayal of Angels and their order in the balance of our world. Mixed in with the above are two major themes that run throughout the book. Firstly is the foreboding biblically inspired depiction of Angels, death and religion (mainly Christianity but Islam and Judaism are mentioned as well). The other theme is romance and the negative fruits of forbidden love.

This book will appeal to a wide range of readers from lovers of fantasy and crime genres through to horror. It also has extras, which are a short extract of his forthcoming book Death’s Disciples and a series of questions and answers giving the reader more insight about the author.

Nadia Mook

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