Conspiracy of Angels is the first in Michelle Belanger’s new Shadowside series of novels and while almost all current urban fantasy borrows a bit (or a lot) from horror, I wouldn’t call Conspiracy of Angels a horror story. Bordering on it—it’s dark, with plenty of monsters and fighting—but not outright horror. I need usually need a few mutilated corpses for that…though I suppose the zombies might count. YMMV (your mileage may vary). But whether borderline of full-tilt horror, when I finished the book, I was desperate to read the next—which isn’t out yet, dammit. Harsh Gods isn’t due out until October (2016). But on to the review of the first book.
Zachary wakes up on a lakeshore with no memory of who he is (actually not the first time I’ve encountered this setup) and no idea he’s not human. He’s one of a tribe of angels that reincarnate, and which I’ll get into later. So biologically human, but he’s also got these wings and extra muscles that only show up on the Shadowside, another side of reality.
There’s all the usual complications that come with forgetting your past, like not knowing who to trust (hint: it’s none of them). It also does a real number on your love life, though said love being kidnapped doesn’t help either. And the additional complications of forgetting your freaking species: headaches, because you’re psychic/empathic; not knowing how to kill or hide from the monstrous creatures stalking you; and then there’s the unique dietary requirements.
Though for my bang-for-the-buck, the best is the moment you realize you may be a murderous, blood-thirsty bastard, that’s always fun. (I feel I should mention at this point that the book is written in first-person, hence all the “you”s.) But the biggest problem, as ever, is family.
2—Intrigue and Angelic Politics
So much freaking intrigue, and I’m loving all of it. It seems like every last one of Zachary’s siblings is scheming something, and usually against each other, or at least against another tribe. These angels make the Byzantines look like amateurs. Back room deals, unbreakable oaths sworn upon your true name, and trading of vital information, it’s all standard interaction.
Saliriel, a sibling from the Nephilim tribe, is the queen of manipulation and I still can’t decide if I like her or hate her, or love to hate her. Though actually that’s true of half the main characters. They all have at least a dozen hidden motivations. And so does Zachary. He just can’t remember them. Which is a problem as he seems to have been trying to prevent a war.
3—New Stuff Done With Old Myths
I’ve seen angels vs demons before so I like that the Shadowside novels aren’t going that route. This is all about the angels. All angels are immortal, but every tribe has their own unique way of achieving that. The Anakim, Zack’s tribe, reincarnate as humans every time they die. The Nephilim are vampires,complete with pointy teeth, and I freaking love it. The other tribes we haven’t interacted with much yet, but I look forward to seeing what Ms Belanger comes up with for them.
There are also all these terrible ancient artifacts, and the daughters of Lilith, and eldritch soul-eating cacodaimons that burrow into dead people so they can pilot them as zombie puppets…have I mentioned how much fun this world is? I also appreciate how much thought the author put into the power of names in her world. It’s not just that oaths sworn upon an angel’s (and possibly other beings’s) name are binding, but that an angel’s name is also literally their power. Something about speaking their name and their name being the essence of who they are. I look forward to learning more about that as the story progresses. But then, I look forward to learning more about all of it.
4—Into the Shadows
The Shadowside is a nifty playground. It’s the spirit side of the world, the part where the non-physical holds its substance, and one Zachary’s tribe have a unique ability to enter into. This in turn allows Zack to do some unique things, like fly. Those insubstantial wings and weird muscles become solid. Though so do the shadow monsters. Zack also being able to see the spirits of other beings, like the Lady of Beasts who is covered with animals, and the Nephilim who look something like a vein map—with wings, of course.
Buildings and suchlike take on a whole new dimension, one of memory and time. Walls and damage fade in and out of existence, and need to be dodged. Doorways and paths become a sort of metaphorical river with a tidal pull. And there are memory-ghosts of people wandering around. Oh, and that lake Zack woke up in? That’s a soul-sucking abyss.
5—A Good Start
Conspiracy of Angels does a good job of introducing characters I want to know more about and a world I want to explore. It answers the main plot, the story problem, while also setting up a bigger picture, about which I am also dying to know more. I just can’t wait for the next book to come out. I also like that Ms Belanger draws from Mesopotamian mythology, something I don’t see used as often and which I happen to love.
I also rarely see getting a portion of your soul ripped out presented in such a way that it could be considered a good thing. Because so much of who Zachary was, was lost, he has an opportunity to see his life and the history of his people from the outside. All these immortals, so enmeshed with their long, long, loooong pasts and obsessed with old grudges…and Zack is now uniquely positioned to see it all with a fresh perspective. Assuming he can get a straight answer out of anyone. But I look forward to seeing him try.