Friday, July 8, 2011


I wish that the next time Hollywood and its wannabes decide to make an action/horror flick about angels and devils, they would turn to Jeff Kirvin*, who has managed to wring a good deal of fresh juice out of old fruit here.

Despite its ringingly eschatological/apocalyptic title, this is nowhere near the hoary religious conflict story I somewhat dreaded when I took it up (especially after having recently enjoyed Rob Kroese's send up of that genre). I don't think God is even mentioned once, for instance, nor Satan except in an oblique reference to Lucifer that treats him more like a military general than the arch-enemy of Creation.

What we get instead is a page-turning romp of a conspiracy story, in which the imaginary/allegorical beings humanity has come to know as angels and demons prove to be real, after a fashion, but that fashion owes more to, say, the Stargate milieu than to the Bible. Which is awesome. Why, after all, would super-powered ancient aliens content themselves with mucking about with the Egyptians when they could tinker with all of human history?

We have a slightly cliche band of misfits unmasking this millennia-old plot, but despite this adherence to formula, the characters are still fresh, rounded, sympathetic and believable. We have Daniel, a former trauma surgeon whose past includes a fatal error that prompted him to leave his old life behind and start anew on the other side of the country; Susan, a scrappy pro blogger who has dreams of a proper journalism career and has been waiting for that one big break, and Jeff, a Vietnam vet turned tinfoil-hat wearing paranormal chaser. One is tempted to snark: check, check, check, as I so often do when I am disappointed in a book -- but here it doesn't matter. Buildings' foundations all look alike; it's what the architect does after laying those that matters.

What I really loved about these characters was how they could be anybody. Nobody, not even our hero Daniel, is a Descendant of Heroes or carries at all the whiff of being a Chosen One with a Special Destiny. Daniel has happened upon a disturbing incident that lands him in trouble with the "demons" and the authorities and winds up on the run. Susan catches a hint of his story and posts it and causes a sensation. Desperate for allies, Daniel decides to contact her and offers her what she cannot resist: an exclusive. And Jeff comes along for the ride after knocking on the wrong hotel room door and getting sucked into the chase. Human beings, reacting as such. One reads and hopes she could be as brave and resourceful as these characters in such circumstances, and believes that maybe she could.

This believability -- even verisimilitude -- is only enhanced by Kirvin's unique epigrammatic choices at the beginning of each chapter. Some start with a quote from a no-doubt bestselling nonfiction book purporting to tell Daniel's true story, direct quotes from Susan, "attributed" remarks from Daniel; others start with highly entertaining tweets sent mostly by Jeff, trying to convey the staggering weirdness of the situation he has found himself in after a lifetime of searching for just such a staggeringly weird situation. There is reference later to a demon wiki as well. All of this points to a strong trans-media potential; it would have been fun if Kirvin had actually made accounts for his characters and created that wiki (and hey, you still can, Jeff old buddy; I bet your fans would be happy to help). As it is, they make for an engaging and amusing storytelling device.

All that said, though, a detour the story takes on the way to its climax didn't quite ring true; as the reality of who these "demons" are becomes evident, the gang gain an almost literal deus ex machina ally who makes a lot of stuff a little too easy and the resulting change in setting (Iraq!) is jarring, though the action that takes place there is intriguing and satisfying enough. I just hope this angel buddy doesn't continue to be so effective an enabler for what the team has to do in future volumes.

For yes, this is the first of a trilogy, which Kirvin has named The Unification Chronicles, a name that now conjures up all sorts of ideas for how the world of these books is poised to change. He wisely included a sneak preview of the second book at the end of the ebook of the first, and I'm more than ready to take it up when I can.

*Full disclosure: Jeff Kirvin is a good Twitter pal of mine, and it was my relationship with him that led me to choose to read this book, from which ordinarily the title and cover art would have warded me off.

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