Wednesday, December 9, 2015

REVIEW | YA FANTASY | Penryn & the End of Days Trilogy by Susan Ee

Genre: Young Adult, SFF
Awards: None
Format: eBook (Prime Kindle Owner's Lending Library)
Narrator: NA

Angelfall (#1) - Publication Year: 2011 
World After (#2) - Publication Year: 2013
End of Days (#3) - Publication Year: 2015

I knew three things almost immediately when I started reading this trilogy: 1) I was going to like it way more than I expected; 2) that I was extremely grateful that I had started the trilogy after all of its installments were published because, if I hadn't, there would have been some seriously anxious toe-tapping and nail biting in between publication dates and 3) I wanted to review the trilogy all together.  Now that I am sitting down to do just that, I'm not entirely sure how to accomplish number 3 or how I want to format it but I stand by that decision because these three books tell one long continuous story.  My plan is to provide a short synopsis, 2 sentence review and star rating for each and then discuss the trilogy as a whole and rate the whole thing.

In Angelfall we meet Penryn for the first time.  She's a teenage girl whose life wasn't terribly easy even before the world was invaded by Angels.  That's right invaded by Angels.  The angels in this story are not the gentle messengers of God but are arrogant, vain, violent warriors. They see human kind as a different and far inferior species that was created to serve God and the Angels.  This book starts just a few weeks after the Angels descended to Earth out of nowhere and proceeded to throw the world into chaos and fear.  Penryn's mother is a paranoid schizophrenic to whom this new world feels familiar and her younger sister is in a wheelchair.  Penryn's father abandoned the family years ago when he could no longer handle his wife's mental illness.

If there is one thing Penryn's unorthodox and troubled childhood has done for her, it has made her very tough.  She has a feeling of strong responsibility for her remaining family especially her little sister, Paige, so when Paige is kidnapped off the street by an Angel and flown away there is no question about what Penryn must do.  She must rescue her sister and she will use anything at her disposal to do it including draft the help of a disgraced angel, Raffe, who has had his wings severed from his body.  Raffe quickly realizes he could use Penryn's help as well if he is to get his wings reattached and get back in the good graces of his people.  The two form an uneasy alliance and make their way across the blighted and dangerous landscape to the angel headquarters in San Francisco.

FINAL VERDICT:  This first volume does such a good job painting a bleak landscape that feels realistically terrifying while establishing a rapport between the unlikely pair of Penryn and Raffe that is both believable and swoon worthy.  It is an intense page turner. 4 out of 5 stars.

World After
Penryn is reunited with her sister and her mom and Raffe again has wings but nothing is as it should be.  Penryn and her family try to join up with the local human resistance but her mom and sister's strangeness make them less then welcome and they are quickly driven apart again by circumstances.  Penryn must set out once again, somewhat less enthusiastically, to rescue her family.  During her travels she learns all about the Angels' horrific plans for human kind and she starts to realize there is more at stake than just her family's survival.   By the end of the book she is reunited with Raffe and they realize that they have a common goal even if their motivations are different and that their relationship is seriously complicated.

FINAL VERDICT:  A great middle novel that feels completely vital and does its job of displaying more of the Angel world and it's politics while establishing the importance of Penryn to humanity's future.  4 out of 5 stars.
End of Days
Penryn has her sister back again and her goal has shifted to doing what she can to stop the Angels' agenda.  She'd also like to help Raffe and fortunately, at least for the moment, saving humanity and helping Raffe are compatible goals. As time goes on however, she is reminded again and again that she and Raffe are from different worlds and those two worlds are not ultimately compatible.  She throws in her lot with the humans and they set out to face the angels once and for all though they have little hope for victory.

FINAL VERDICT:  This was a somewhat disappointing conclusion to the series primarily because the ending felt jarring and unnatural which clashed with what, to that point, had been a very authentic and down to earth tone.  3 out of 5 stars.
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The Series

I never really thought I'd read a book about angels.  Not my thing at all.  Sure, I enjoy Castiel on Supernatural but most of the heavenly froofrara that comes with him just makes me roll my eyes. However, I saw so many glowing...and of this series that I wanted to check it out and was immediately hooked.  Why?  Penryn.  This is her story and it's her voice all the way through and it is such a good voice.  I think Susan Ee perfectly captures the voice of a teenage girl who has been forced to become more mature and take on more responsibility than she really wants.  Her emotions are constantly at war but because she has always had to be the adult-with-their-head-on-straight at home she keeps it all in check and does what she has to do.  She is such a strong and unique person, without falling into the special snowflake trap, that I had no trouble whatsoever believing that a guy whose been around for thousands of years would be interested in her.  Penryn is who I wish Katniss Everdeen had been.

Focusing on Penryn and keeping the story with her was also a real strength of the books.  It keeps the story personal.  The things happening are epic and world changing but all we are concerned about is how Penryn will survive and protect her family.  Frankly the angel story line is ridiculous but it took me a very long time to notice that because I was so invested in Penryn.

The personal nature of the story was also helped by how gritty this dystopian world was and Ee's detailed vision of it. There's no fantastical gimmicks, just tired frightened people trying to figure out how to survive in a world completely unfamiliar while there is the constant threat of being preyed upon by monsters.  The book frequently crosses over into horror with really graphic and difficult imagery bringing home how terrifying this new world is.  I found it easy to imagine being in Penryn's shoes and thought the world she moved in felt very real even if the reason for the world being the way it is, was completely fantastical.  Basically it captures the desperation and fear that would take over the human race if our civilization collapsed.

The books avoid being too grim and dark for two reasons - humor and romance.  First the romance, which again benefits from the very personal perspective of the storytelling.  Ee does a good job keeping the romance in check but when it is there it works really well because we're in Penryn's head.  The romance doesn't feel out of place and odd even though it should.  Penryn frequently gets irritated with herself for getting all googly-eyed over a boy when the world is coming to an end but she can't help it.  She and Raffe are really awesome together with one of the best things being the banter.  Considering he's an Angel, Raffe is unexpectedly a sarcastic smart ass and Penryn gives back what she's given.  You can tell this humor and the interaction between these two helps lighten up the books because Raffe's absence for much of World After definitely makes it the grimmest of the books.  It is the scariest because without Raffe, Penryn is really on her own with no backup she can rely on and I was white knuckled for her throughout this book.  Their relationship is truly star-crossed with the loyalty each of them has to their own "kind".  Penryn recognizes that even though Raffe disagrees with the Angels actions he still feels kinship with them and he will not help her wipe them out.
It dawns on me that even though Uriel is creating a false apocalypse and is out to kill Raffe, that doesn’t mean Raffe is willing to help humans win the war against his own people. I’ve had plenty of humans try to kill me since the Great Attack, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to help the angels wipe out the humans. Far from it.
The other aspect of this Dystopian world that I found particularly interesting as a wildlife biologist/conservationist was observing humans being treated like we often treat animals.  The prettiest and friendliest are kept as pets who are not always well treated and the rest are experimented upon or killed depending upon what serves the Angels' needs best.  And there are differing feelings among the angels with some having more respect for humans than others.  It's an interesting way to read the books to say the least!

The books aren't perfect of course and things kind of fell apart for me in End of Days.  Overall it's not a bad book.  I was a little bored by the heavy focus on the romance in the first part of the book but it really picked up again roughly 20-30% in.  Then came the ending which completely took me by surprise.  It's quite...bizarre.  It doesn't really mesh with the tone in the rest of the books and feels quite rushed.  It felt a bit like the ending Ee had originally written for the books was too dark and someone convinced her that it wouldn't be received well so she unleashed some unicorns and puppies onto the manuscript. There's Deus ex Machina vomited (the angelic plague of the sixers) all over which perhaps is appropriate in a book about angels. /:

Also, I was left with so many questions.  To be fair the books work best if you don't think about them too deeply though I think it only really becomes a problem in this third installment where there is so much more focus on the Angels and their culture and plans.  Some of the questions I had (in case someone can answer them:) that are a little spoilery so beware: All that really needed to happen was kill Uriel? Then everything would be peachy?  What was up with Gabriel and the whole decree that Angels and Humans mating will make abominations?  Raffe's revelation about this here is completely contradictory to what he has been saying and how he has been acting in the previous books.  How do we know that Michael whose off wandering by himself ignoring the destruction and chaos the angels are causing is going to come back and fix everything?  How does one become an Archangel?  Why did every single one of Raffe's company fall in love with a human woman?  What's wrong with the angelic ladies?  What's happening in the rest of the world outside of San Francisco?  If Uriel was really the only one keeping the angels on task in destroying humanity how come he can just hang out in San Francisco?  And what exactly is up with Paige - why does she have the ability to attract and lead the locusts? *shrugs*

In the end, I give the series 3.5 out of 5 stars on the strength of the first two books.  The last book kind of swings and misses but I still admit that I mostly enjoyed it.

Overall Series Rating:

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