Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my post every week.
Five years ago I discovered the most awesome of awesome Sharon Shinn. I'd been walking past Archangel in the bookstore for ages at that point and passing it up every single time because of the cover. (Will I ever mend my cover snobbery ways??) I remember it was a recommendation by a very trusted Readerville friend that finally pushed me over the edge into buying a copy and giving it a shot. I didn't get past the first page--no, the first line--before falling irrevocably in love.
The angel Gabriel went to the oracle on Mount Sinai, looking for a wife.
The world . . . such a world she creates in that book! And, as I've told you many a time, she is no slouch in the character department either. Rachel and Gabriel are as beloved to me as any characters I've ever read. They're so real to me they transcend the barrier between book and reader. At the time I had no idea it was actually the first book in a series--the Samaria series. Upon finding out, I immediately dashed to the bookstore and purchased books two and three and glommed my way through them as well, barely pausing to catch my breath despite the fact that hundreds of years passed in Samaria between each book. Then a fourth book--a prequel of sorts--was published and I had the pleasure of finding out what the world was like a couple of hundred years before Gabriel and Rachel walked it. And then I heard tell of a fifth book coming out. And when I heard when it took place and who the main character was, I knew it would rock my world. Angel-Seeker follows a dear friend of Rachel's--an angel by the name of Obadiah who, for various reasons, was left a bit at loose ends at the close of Archangel. This fifth book was to be his story and, believe me, it is impossible not to love Obadiah. And his story lived up to every expectation I had. Published last of the lot, it often feels to me like some readers never quite make it to this installment and that is such a shame because it is top notch stuff and my second favorite after Archangel. It was when I read Holly's review of it over at Book Harbinger that I knew it was time to feature it for a Retro Friday post.
Obadiah is spoiling for a fight. He's restless at the Eyrie, which has always been his home. He doesn't fit in at Cedar Hills, despite his loving friends who only want the best for him. And to top it all off, he's still carrying a pretty strong torch for a woman he can never have. Then the Archangel himself calls him into his office and sends him on a mission to the last place Obadiah wants to go--Breven. The home of the Jansai merchants, Breven is a bit of a lion's den when it comes to angels. But Obadiah has always had a way with people. Blessed with a light heart and a clever tongue, he is literally the kind who finds music wherever he goes. And since the alternative is throwing himself off a cliff from despair and boredom, he agrees to the Archangel's demand. And for awhile things go fine. But on his way back to Cedar Hills something goes badly wrong and he is stranded in the desert, where a young Jansai woman named Rebekah finds him. Despite the rather large taboo against talking to men outside her family, let alone brazen angels, Rebekah nurses Obadiah back to health and a connection is formed that will spell both the heights of happiness and the depths of danger for the young woman and the angel. Interwoven with their story is the tale of a poor young woman named Elizabeth who makes her way to Cedar Hills in search of an angel to father her a child and thus secure her lasting comfort and safety. Angel children are rare and much prized and Elizabeth is nothing if not practical and determined. And so she leaves the obscure farm she lives on for the big city and the elusive freedom that just may await her there.
These two stories interweave in unexpected and very complimentary ways and--as is always the case with a Shinn book--I'm surprised that I am perfectly content to love the ones I'm with, if you will. I look forward to each alternating chapter, to finding out what's going on with the Rebekah and Obadiah and then Elizabeth and her struggles to find the life she's so certain she wants. What constantly amazes me about Sharon Shinn is that she consistently crafts equally strong female and male characters. They call out to me in spades as they are so finely matched in strength of character and determination. I worried so much over how Obadiah would fare out on his own, without the friends he loved. But then he met Rebekah and all the little pieces fell into place. Nothing was easy, but when they were together it felt right and not like it was manufactured just to finish out a side character's story arc satisfactorily for longtime readers. What a blessed relief that is! Their relationship develops in an incredibly sweet manner, unfolding slowly against the backdrop of discrimination and fear that surrounds their two peoples who have been at each other's throats since time immemorial. Because of the nature of their interactions, everything is played out in little snatches of time, brief moments in which they are able to be together. There is quite a lot of tension, but none of the resentment and barely suppressed anger that characterized Rachel and Gabriel's tumultuous relationship. These two are different and very much their own characters. Often in books like this, one storyline out shadows the other, but seemingly terminally single minded and heartless Elizabeth completely grew on me. She grew and became both harder and smarter and gentler, which is, of course, a combination impossible for me to resist. Last but not least, there are just the right amount of glimpses of old favorite characters sprinkled here and there to put a smile on my lips and remind me why each book in this series is a delight and why I will be reading them over and over again all throughout the years of my life. Highly recommended for fans of romantic fantasy and strong world-building.
(in order of publication):
Retro Friday Roundup