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Angelica    by Sharon Shinn order for
by Sharon Shinn
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sharon Shinn has been on my must read list ever since I was enthralled by the first of her Samaria novels, Archangel. Since it seemed that The Alleluia Files ended the series, I was excited to hear about the release of Angelica, set earlier in Samarian history. I've found this a unique series in that, in its beginning readers shared the worldview of Samarians. It seemed to be a fantasy series about a world of humans and angels, whose beliefs include a deity called Jovah. The author only gradually disclosed that Jovah is a spaceship, whose unknowing worshippers communicate through song, and that the angels have been genetically engineered.

Susannah belongs to the Edori, a close, clannish, gypsy-like, nomadic people. Edori do not usually have a 'Kiss' (a monitoring device used by Jovah) inserted in the arm at birth, but Susannah has been doubly 'Kissed'. And she dreams often of 'an immense place of light and hushed mystery, with unexpected gleams of silver and strange, sparkling tapestries laid against the walls.' As the book opens, she travels happily with her lover, the handsome, charming Dathan and his family, the Lohoras, and they visit the city Luminaux, 'the bright lapis gem of Samaria'. Susannah loves Dathan despite his faults of fecklessness and faithlessness.

Next we encounter Gaaron, joining a chorus of angels and mortals singing to Jovah in the Eyrie. Gaaron is large, calm and totally reliable. He's the Archangel elect; everyone brings their problems to him, and he deals with them. The bane of his existence is his beloved, ever rebellious sister Miriam, who perpetually makes trouble for him and for herself. When Gaaron asks the oracle at Mount Sinai about his Angelica to be, he is surprised to learn that Jovah has identified an Edori as his bride. So begins a romance between mature and rational individuals, that's rife with misunderstanding.

But there's much more to this story than a love affair, absorbing though that is. Susannah and her Edori companions stumble upon 'a great scorched circle of grass and canvas and bone' where once was a peaceful campsite. There are sightings of strange red-haired black men, and further massacres are reported to Gaaron. Near one such site, angels rescue Kaski, a mute young Jansai girl who has seen horrors. Susannah and Kaski both end up in the Eyrie, and bring each other some comfort, as feelings develop slowly between the Edori woman and Gaaron. At the same time, the killings steadily escalate, the numbers of dead increase dramatically, and panic sets in.

When Gaaron consults the oracle, she suggests these violent visitors could be from another world, commenting that the universe outside the Samarians' back yards 'is a pretty big thing to overlook'. Miriam comes of age through travel with the Edori and her own close encounter with the strangers, and learns wisdom. Susannah plays an important part in resolution of the one-sided conflict, and eventually takes her own action to sort out a courtship whose pace is too sedate for her liking. Overall, Angelica is a welcome addition to an excellent series, not to be missed by fans of speculative fiction with heart.

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