“Here, I’ll show you how to use it. Let me see your foot.” “That’s a pretty intimate demand in the angel world. It usually takes dinner, some wine, and sparkling conversation for me to give up my feet.”
'Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days Book 1)' by Susan Ee, is a post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy that follows a 17-year-old girl as she makes her way through the destruction in the Bay area of California.
As the story opens, young Penryn is struggling by with her mentally ill mother and wheelchair-bound sister. The angels, having appeared seemingly from nowhere.. have rained chaos and death down on humans, leaving everyone living hand-to-mouth. Barely surviving by moving constantly to uninhabited buildings and trying to scavenge anything edible left behind, Penryn is responsible for care of her family and has no one else to turn to for help.
Hiding, not just from the angels.. but also from street gangs that move together through the new world taking whatever they want and tormenting those around them, Penryn mostly avoids others. But when she witnesses an attack she can't ignore, she goes to help and in the process.. an enemy flies away with her sister.
"Even in your Bible, we’re harbingers of doom, willing and able to destroy entire cities. Just because we sometimes warned one or two of you beforehand doesn’t make us altruistic.”
Sinking further into her mental illness with her medication no longer available to her and one of her daughters lost, her mother becomes more unstable.. going off on her own, while Penryn ends up making a deal with Raffe.. an injured enemy angel. Bound together by a common destination, if not common goals.. the pair set off for a place the others congregate. The girl trying to make her family whole again.. and the angel trying to do the same for himself.
I desperately dug into this book because a couple of my close friends love the series.. and with the new special editions on the way from Fairyloot, I thought it'd be wise to know if I liked them before kneejerk buying them. To be honest, I was hoping to dislike them and save the money.. but that's just not how it was meant to go.
Granted, this first book of the series was published almost 10 years ago. So, the approach to mental illness and physical disabilities would probably not do well in today's more hyperaware social approach to diversity. Both are often framed pretty negatively and that's something to consider before reading. If you're uncomfortable with less sensitive comments regarding either or both, this book may not be for you.
As fantasies go, there are moments of creativity.. some with more of a sci-fi bent to them. Be prepared for unusual world-building that exists somewhere between The Walking Dead, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and some seriously old world biblical mythology. Despite the fact that some of it felt a little absurd to me, I do realize in fantasy it's actually all absurd and I'm fine with that. The textures and concepts were just a bit different and I wasn't used to them at first, but they were vividly described and used innovatively to make this fantasy just a little bit horrifying.
Though the way Penryn's thought process is written seems extremely immature for my liking, I believe it's intentional on the part of the author and is more indicative of the character than the author's skill. While I never went through a phase where my brain worked like hers, I did know a lot of teens who could relate better. Did it annoy me? At times. But I got it and it makes sense for the book.
“Oh. My. God.” I lower my voice, having forgotten to whisper. “You are nothing but a bird with an attitude. Okay, so you have a few muscles, I’ll grant you that. But you know, a bird is nothing but a barely evolved lizard. That’s what you are.” He chuckles. “Evolution.” He leans over as if telling me a secret. “I’ll have you know that I’ve been this perfect since the beginning of time.”
Raffe is an intriguing character and the dynamic between he and Penryn is amusing. I enjoyed reading their banter, I just would have liked Ee to lean into that a bit more. Of course, I was dreadfully displeased with the turn of events toward the end of the book, but I'm hopeful at some point over the next two.. there will be some retribution and healing.
Back to my plan to dislike the books for a moment, I've already gone ahead and purchased the rest of the series and I've added that sale date to my calendar. You win some, you lose some.
If you like a good underdog story with some good battle scenes, a hint of romantic tension, and a lot of risk, you may enjoy this too.