So many literary meals, so little time! One of the things I hope you fine literary foodies come to these reviews for is to get some suggestions on what books to devour that will be worth your time. Today’s treat comes from the land of conspiracy thrillers with a dose of the religious and supernatural thrown in to sweeten the meal. Of course, no matter how tempting the course seems or how vile, we all know the proof is in the pudding. So, friends, let’s crack the spine and delve into this dish full of dark conspiracy and thrilling action to see if it’s worth a place at your dinner table.
Of course, before we start, let me recite the Starving Review creed:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
Alright, let’s start our literary examination with the good stuff, the nice flavors we find tucked into this meal. Now, the fact I’m being so specific in stating this might make long-term viewers a bit worried and … I won’t dissuade those concerns, but let’s carry on! Grievous Angels does a decent bit right. The initial pacing is especially well-done, starting with action then slipping immediately into mystery. The initial dramatic tension is well-preserved for the first few chapters and kept me reading until a certain point (but we’ll deal with that later in the review). Some of the characters were well-written, I found I especially liked, for the most part, the portrayal of the main character’s priest brother.
The biggest problem, though, is that most of these good parts and several aspects of the book that could have been great (especially the mysteries around the secret societies and the plot in general) are totally hamstrung by one aspect of the writing style: the point of view. Angels is written in a very loose third person omniscient style, with the point-of-view jumping into the deepest thoughts of every character, sometimes multiple times in one scene … sometimes in mid-paragraph. There is no attempt to sustain suspense or mystery, because every bit of mystery is usually stripped away when the camera jumps into the head of one of the main villains or mysterious figure or whoever. Once there, whatever strange thing just happened is usually swiftly dissected and so … no more mystery. By the halfway point of the book, if not before, there is no mystery left as to who the good guys and bad guys are. There is no more conspiracy left in this thriller at that point, whacking out two of the chair’s four legs and leaving the diner about ready to jump ship before his/her face winds up in the ravioli.
This one huge problem is compounded by a few smaller issues. The first is the strange emotional disconnect that is shown during action scenes. Again, it mainly comes from misuse of the third person omniscient viewpoint. Fight scenes are mostly written as if they were Civil War battles recounted in a history book, drained of emotion and drama. For a thriller, this leaves the thrills to be fairly muted. This is compounded by the lack of characterization for most of the minor cast and, honestly, the main cast to a degree. The antagonists, especially, are very cardboard with only the most thin of motivations.
The worst offender when it comes to characterization is how Mr. Poole treats his female characters. There are only a handful of named ones and they drop neatly into basic tired stereotypes: Nuturing Lover, Femme Fatale, Tough Chick in a Man’s Job, and … well, the fourth one I remember had no characterization, just a name. The good girls are loving, the bad girls are all bad and wear revealing clothes and catsuits. The good girls never EVER get involved in the action and the main bad girl, touted by several others to be a very deadly assassin and fighter, get totally trashed in every action scene she shows up in, by good guys and bad guys alike. This meal is just not very tasty to a woman reader.
Finally, there are just moments where the plot goes nonsensical. I can’t go into this in any real depth (no Spoilers remember!) but there are multiple points where good sense and intelligent plotting fall apart, especially in the last-half of the book. It doesn’t help that the final two major action scenes are essentially rehashes of the same kind of activity, giving the last act a sort of ‘second verse same as the first’ feel.
Okay, well, I didn’t mean to go quite so long on this, but this is what happens when I start a meal that has a great initial taste that turns to ash in my mouth as I continue. It gets me worked up far more than a book that is just plain horrible from start to finish because I feel bad at the lost potential in the story, especially as Mr. Poole obviously did his research into the core of the conspiracy he presents. So well, final summation, comes down to this: Grievous Angels is a conspiracy thriller with religious elements that has the mystery and thrills drained out of it during the last half of the meal and that’s just unfortunate, not to mention the horrible taste it’ll put in a woman’s mouth.
FINAL VERDICT: ** (The first bites are great, but the rest of the meal turns into an identical blandness with some nasty bits for women readers.)