(2013) Jon Steele, Transworld, £18.99, hrdbk, 491pp, ISBN 978-0-593-06866-3
Angels and demons walk among us, carrying usi sub-machine guns much of the time. The French, and Swiss security services seem to be very much aware of this already. Many of them are angels or half-breeds, (the produce of relationships between angels and mortals).
Their battle has raged on Earth for centuries. They were caught up in the 13th century Catholic Annihilation of the Cathars. We see this massacre in the opening chapter.
Two angels, Jay Harper (killed and resurrected as often as Kenny from South Park), is a martyred Cathar saint and a former SAS soldier, and Katharine, have met before, in Steele's first book in the Angelus trilogy, The Watchers, only to have their memories wiped after their adventures. This second book is quite a challenge without having read The Watchers.
Their reunion is yet to come even by the end of the sequel, with them not even meeting up in the closing pages of a 480 plus story. This leaves the book reading like two jigsaw puzzles jumbled into the same box.
Harper’s adventures range from diffusing an apparent nuclear bomb in Paris, where witnesses to his miraculous powers start to believe in God again, as he flies down onto a boat on the Seine to violently wipe out the terrorist cell there.
Harper is frequently sent on wild goose chases to find information and artefacts his controllers seem to now already. He spends a lot of time tracking clues found on tee-shirts, a meets a mysterious woman on a train and goes to see a rock band who may know more of what is going on than the reader is told.
The trouble is that these angels and demons are not literally those of scripture. They can die, (permanently after a time) and they take drugs as aides to memory, as well as for warping time or accelerating their memory power. Harper uses his skills to take on a crazed angel who does not even realize what he is. He even has to organize a jailbreak to achieve it, though this goes remarkably easily.
Much build up is made of one set of villains only for the climatic conflict to involve a completely new menace to set up an apocalyptic and genuinely shocking cliffhanger ready for book three.
Katherine, as mother to a suspected new Messiah, currently not yet two years old, gets little to do for much of the book other than dote on her boy and play with the family cat while one of her guards develops a lesbian crush on her. Her story is a distraction to the high-octane action pacing of Harper’s adventures. Whole chapters have her going out for ice cream under armed escort, and subjected to emergency drill procedures (all of which prove useless when the big attack finally comes).
Katherine's story is interrupted by various false alarm red herring events as her guards subject her to a 'panic room' regime comparable to that in the Jodie Foster film.
Though able to time flash to gain information from his various lives, Harper seems to get most of his information from obsessive viewing of The History Channel, which seems to show constant programming on the rise and fall of the Cathars. (Whenever I watch it most episodes are about 20th century history).
The story is closer to the spirit of Nightwatch and Daywatch than 'Touched By An Angel'.
Spiked cigarettes and cups of tea are used to induce various drug trips. These angels are off their heads for much of the novel.
Harper seems to find a fragment of Holy Grail and one of the three nails used in Christ’s crucifixion, but the relevance of this to the overall narrative is unclear, possibly until book three. The book constantly sets things up for later resolution but offers no real closure of its own – it is a promotion for book three throughout.
Even the sextant Harper spends most of the book searching for is not ultimately put to any use here. There’s a lot of interesting material that does not patch together, but it remains a fun read throughout Harper's story, while Katherine's could be severely edited without much loss to the overall narrative.
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