Archangel is a novel in Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series, featuring a world in which angels and humans live together in harmony. The Samaria series is not published in chronological order, but on her website Shinn recommends reading the books in the following order (by release date): Archangel, Jovah’s Angel, The Allelluia Files, Angelica, and Angel-Seeker. There is also a novella in the To Weave a Web of Magic anthology called “Fallen Angel” that was published after the novels. Although this novel is supposed to be science fiction, it seems more like a fantasy novel. However, I read the blurb on the novel that spoiled other books in the series, and there is a reason it is labeled science fiction instead of fantasy.
Every twenty years a new angel is chosen by the god Jovah to lead the people. The beginning of the Archangel’s ascension is marked by the singing of the Gloria, which must be led by the mortal woman chosen by the god to be his wife, the Angelica. If the Gloria is not sung and attended by the appropriate people, Jovah will express his displeasure with thunderbolts. First he will destroy a mountain, then after a few days the river, and eventually the entire world if the Gloria is not performed to his satisfaction.
This is posing a bit of a problem for Gabriel, who is to become the new Archangel in 6 months and cannot find the woman chosen by Jovah to be his new wife. Although he has known he is to become Archangel for years, Gabriel kept putting off seeking the oracle to find out whom he is to marry. He figures he will have plenty of time to find her, and of course, every woman dreams of becoming the angelica so she’ll be thrilled when he gives her the news. What Gabriel did not count on was Jovah’s choice of Rachel, a farm girl who has not been in the location he was given for many years. After much searching, Gabriel has almost given up hope until he meets the slave girl who tends his fire in the morning and discovers that she is Rachel – who despises the prospect of becoming the new Angelica.
Archangel is somewhat romantic in that there is some emphasis on the relationship between Gabriel and Rachel, but it is far from being a mushy, sicky sweet love story. Occasionally, the two got along, but for the most part Rachel and Gabriel argue. Or, more precisely, Gabriel tries to be kind to Rachel and Rachel is not very nice to him in return. In the very beginning of the story, the oracle told Gabriel that the Angelica would counterbalance him, which meant she would most likely humble him since he was an arrogant man. That’s how it works, but honestly, I’m not quite sure how Gabriel put up with Rachel. At first, Gabriel is a bit disturbed by the fact that Jovah chose a slave girl for him, the Archangel of all Samaria, even though he was working to undo slavery in Samaria. Once he came to accept Rachel’s humble origins, he did try to be very understanding to her, but she never tried at all. In fact, she did quite the opposite, and basically did everything she could to be a thorn in his side.
Part of the story is told from Gabriel’s perspective, but more of it is from Rachel’s perspective and it’s really more her story than his. Because of this, you know about Rachel’s past and how much she has lost, so she’s at least somewhat more sympathetic than she would be otherwise. Even so, she became harder to empathize with the further I read. She was one of those characters you just wanted to knock some sense into. Once Gabriel got over his issue with her slavery, he was almost too perfect, and she couldn’t just be even a little bit nice to him? He was a just man who was trying to make changes for the better throughout the land, and he did his best to ensure Rachel was as happy as possible. Yet stubborn Rachel always had to be difficult, and even though it makes sense with her character, I still wanted to yell at her to get a grip and quit being so immature and silly. Early on, I loved Rachel, and although I never really disliked her, I did like her less later and can see some readers coming to despise her.
Archangel is about more than just Rachel and Gabriel, although they are the main focus. It’s also about Rachel adjusting to her new life and Gabriel’s attempts to undo the problems created by his predecessor, the Archangel Raphael. Raphael lacked Gabriel’s strong sense of justice and could be bought by the merchants. He was the one who allowed one race of people to be enslaved, and he turned out to be worse and worse.
Religion did play a major role in the storyline, but it seemed like part of the setting to me rather than preachiness even if part of the novel was about having faith in Jovah. Samaria’s lands and people tended to have Biblical names and it was closer to the Old Testament than the new one – there was no Savior mentioned, just a god who needed to be pleased or smiting would commence. The people of Samaria tried to uphold the laws, but there was one group of people who believed differently from the rest, the Edori (who adopted Rachel at a young age when her parents died). Most of the people believed Jovah was supreme but the Edori believe that he was created by another being and answers to his creator. They also believed any person could talk to Yovah (their name for Jovah) even if he was not an oracle or angel. At Rachel’s wedding, she converses with one of the oracles about the beliefs of the Edori and he wonders who taught them these beliefs and where they came from, which I am hoping is explored in further books. I would like to know more about Jovah, where he came from, and which beliefs about him are actually true. The world beliefs in this novel and how they were executed was one of my favorite aspects of the book.
Archangel was a wonderful book with an intriguing setting based on Biblical ideas. Although I loved the main heroine for about half the book, her attitude did become wearying toward the end, but it was always readable and kept me wanting to find out what happened next. I’d definitely like to read more of the books in this series.