ARC provided by the publisher, Gollancz, in exchange for an honest review.
Angel Mage by Garth Nix
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars.
Genre: High fantasy
Publishing date: 1st October, 2019 by HarperCollins, US and 17th October, 2019 by Gollancz, UK.
Angel Mage is a stand-alone fantasy novel that engages with its fascinating magic, but less so in its plot and character development.
I’ve enjoyed Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy and was particularly impressed with the worldbuilding in that series of books. Similarly, I found the premise of Angel Mage to be intriguing as magic is bestowed by the ability to call upon angels with the use of icons. To make it even more interesting is the cost of magic, i.e. the lifespan of the person who employs angelic magic. The more powerful the angel which was called upon, the more life is literally sucked out of the caller. The lore is also fascinating where different regions or countries are governed by different Archangels and their respective pantheons – from Cherubims to Seraphims, and Principalities, to name but a few.
However, it pains me to say that the execution of the story was not as good as what I’ve encountered when reading the Abhorsen trilogy. Firstly, the writing in Angel Mage is not at par with the quality in Abhorsen, with several instances where it even seemed clunky. I vacillated between being mildly bored to somewhat interested during my entire read as I did not feel much attachment to the characters at all.
I don’t have anything against predictable plots as great characterisation could always keep me invested in the story. There are five major characters together with the so-called villain, Liliath. Four of these characters have supposedly embodied the largest remnants of the Archangel Palleniel, and are the ones Liliath needed the most to further her plans. Out of the four, I was most intrigued with Dorotea, a scholar who has a special talent for icon-making, and that was because her characterisation is linked to the world’s lore and angelic magic system. The others just came across as pretty uninteresting, even though sufficiently distinctive in their own personalities. And I cringed at how archetypically villainous Liliath was in her depiction as the most powerful, beautiful and cunning mage. There was even a line somewhere that states how her icons were ‘cunningly’ hidden in one of her personal effects.
Besides the magic system, I did appreciate the themes of slavery and racial discrimination, but I can’t say much more without giving away minor spoilers. There are also obvious inspirations drawn from The Three Musketeers in the story. Nix also showed that he remains relevant in modern story-telling by incorporating LGBTQ characters pretty well into the narrative without making it seemed contrived.
While Angel Mage may not have worked well for me, I do think that this novel still has a place among other fantasy readers who may like the characters more than I did.