In the aftermath of Armageddon, Earth is a desolate battlefield where angels and demons continue to fight tooth and nail for the ravaged land. In the midst of this chaos is Laila, a being half dark and half light who wants nothing more than a place to rest. With her, we find out what happens when this wish goes unanswered.
In Flaming Dove, Arenson weaves an absorbing tale of the ultimate example of internal conflict: a being part angel, part demon, and fully belonging nowhere. In her quest for a home, she becomes caught up in the ongoing battle between Heaven and Hell for dominion over the Earth, knowing that a win from either side would lead to her death. He places his heroine in quite the predicament!
Laila rises to the task admirably, causing the reader to root for her despite the impossibility of her goals. The complexity of her character — unpredictable, angry, impulsive, loving, and lonely — makes her personality stand out when it could easily have been swallowed up by a face-paced storyline and rapid-fire action sequences. Similarly, Bat El and Beelzebub are thoroughly explored, calling into question the belief that the two represent opposite ends of the spectrum. There is a humanization of the major players here that draws out a reader's compassion. I was flipping each screen with a combination of anticipation and dread, knowing that there was no way for everyone to wind up happy.
One of the risks in writing about angels and demons is the polarization effect: characters are depicted as being wholly good or wholly evil. In Arenson's world, however, the angels have their own hedonistic tendencies, while the demons are barbarians with a heart. He capitalizes on these traits, creating a storyline filled with internal conflict, betrayal, and sacrifice, with thousands of unnamed casualties tossed in for good measure. I almost missed my bus stop a few times as I focused on satisfying the itch to find out how everything would be resolved. I finished the novel satisfied with the course of events and the open doors that the author left.
A second challenge in writing about angels and demons is dealing with readers' preconceived notions based on Judeo-Christian theology. Some circumvent this by leaving faith and God out of the equation, creating an alternate environment in which these beings exist and fight one another in an age-old battle of good versus evil without the oversight of an omnipotent, all-powerful being. Arenson, however, takes a different route entirely, referencing angels such as Michael and Gabriel and turning them into flawed protagonists. While this is an innovative approach, it greatly diminished my ability to believe in the book.
In Judeo-Christian theology, sin is sin, regardless of the magnitude of the transgression. Within this framework, therefore, it is unlikely that adultery and drunkenness would be so easily overlooked by the same God who threw fallen angels out of Heaven for their rebellion. Equally difficult to swallow is the lack of human involvement, as the war being waged is over souls, not burned up land. That Bat El's actions were never punished, or even really addressed, is still a source of incredulity, as is the acceptance of the plethora of lies told by those who are supposed to be good. Still, I gave the author some creative license to pick and choose aspects of religion that suited his needs. After all, this world was his; I just wish that someone would explain to me from where Laila obtained all those bullets and grenades.
There were many passages in this book that were written well, drawing the reader into the unfolding drama and rapidly pushing the story forward. Even so, there were also areas where the information presented became redundant. For instance, multiple references might be made to a character's current location when it has already been established where he or she is. This might not have been as noticeable had the same word, such as amphitheater, not been used each time and in back-to-back paragraphs. The author also favored the word "maw" throughout the novel, and it started to lose its impact by the fourth or fifth instance of its use.
Stylistic preferences are subjective, but another issue that I had was grammatical in nature: the confusion of direct object pronouns and subject pronouns. An example of this would "It was her" instead of "It was she." This came up several times, and while it's understandable in dialogue, I was still bothered by it when it occurred outside of quotation marks.
Overall, this was a fascinating fantasy novel. The plot moves along quickly, the sequence of events makes sense, and the development of the characters along the way adds depth to an action-filled tale.
(Review copy provided by the author)