Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review: 'Blood Red Angel' by Adrian Cole

3 / 5 Stars

Saddled with an awful cover illustration (by Duane O’Myers) that looks like it was initially destined for a romance novel, ‘Blood Red Angel’ (377 pp.) was released in November 1993.

Adrian Cole is an English author of fantasy and sf for the adult and juvenile markets. He has published several multi-volume series: ‘The Omaran Saga’, ‘Dream Lords’, and ‘Star Requiem’, as well as standalone novels.

‘Blood Red Angel’ takes place on an un-named world where the landscape is in perpetual twilight under an immense bank of clouds called the Skydown. The major city in this subdued terrain is Thousandreach, with towers stretching thousands of feet into the sky; in their palaces at the apex of these towers, above the Skydown, a coterie of decadent aristocrats – who have long since mutated beyond human form – rule the land as ‘Lightbenders’. 

A hierarchy of Elevates, Skryers, and Providers - minor bureaucrats, lordlings, and wizards -  live in the lower levels of Thousandreach, serving their masters among the Lightbenders in the hopes of ultimately joining their patrons as members of the omnipotent exalted.

A warp (known as the Overlap) in the space-time continuum serves to temporarily open portals to adjoining worlds, whose populations are raided by the Providers. The fate awaiting these abducted peoples, or ‘Externals’, is not pleasant: they are to be converted into sustenance for the ravenous Lightbenders. 

Armies of specially created flying men – the ‘Angels’ of the book’s title – are used by the Elevates to keep order, and track down escaping Externals.

As the novel opens a young man named Ruarhi, from what may be Celtic-era Britain, finds himself captured by servants of the Providers and transported to the world under Skydown. 

His struggles to escape his captors, and to discover a way back to his own world; his efforts are paralleled by those of a Blood Red Angel named Arterial, who becomes a hunted outcast from his clan.

Gradually, the two plot threads coalesce, as Ruarhi and Arterial join forces in an uneasy alliance with a rogue Elevate to carry out a plan to overthrow the Lightbenders, and bring freedom to the oppressed masses toiling in the dank underworld of Thousandreach.

In some ways ‘Blood Red’ is a ground-breaking precursor to the ‘dark fantasy’ novels and series of China Mieville (‘King Rat’, ‘Perdido Street Station’), Alan Campbell (‘Scar Night’), and Tim Lebbon (‘Echo City’). 

Like those novels, ‘Blood Red’ is a lengthy work, highly descriptive in nature, with a narrative that deliberately avoids the optimistic character of traditional epic fantasy novels, to focus instead on a depressing landscape, whose inhabitants eke out their lives in ignorance of the great forces that have shaped their destinies.

And, like the dark fantasy novels of Mieville, Campbell, and Lebbon,  ‘Blood Red’ suffers from weaknesses in terms of pacing. The central section of the novel stalls rather badly, as the author devotes considerable text to detailing the machinations and intrigues among the bureaucrats of Thousandreach. 

The climax of the novel also suffers from too much exposition, as the author is unable to resist inserting one new plot development after another, draining excitement from the final confrontation with the Lightbenders.

Readers with the patience for a deliberately-paced, expansive dark fantasy novel may want to check out ‘Blood Red Angel’. Those who like their novels to have a more condensed character, will probably want to pass on it.

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