Date read: 9/15/05
Read from: Public library
Samaria is a utopian, hierarchical world, its people divided into strict social castes, from the wealthy, land-holding Manadavvi to the nomadic Edori. All are guided by the winged angels, who arbitrate mortal disputes and pray directly to the god Jovah through their music. Gabriel is an uncompromisingly principled angel due to become the next Archangel, who must therefore find his wife, the Angelica, in time for the next Gloria, when mortals and angels from across Samaria must gather and sing to show Jovah their unity. Unfortunately, he finds that his wife is Rachel, an embittered Edori slave girl who couldn’t care less about Gabriel or becoming the Angelica. Complicating Gabriel’s problems is the current Archangel, Raphael, who seems increasingly unwilling to cede his power, and has begun to foster corruption in the ranks of the angels.
Sharon Shinn‘s Samaria books are romantic science fantasies much along the same lines as Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. I actually read the second book of the original trilogy, Jovah’s Angel, first, but liked Archangel much more because the characters were so much stronger in personality.
I find, though, that the main interest of the books lies in the fascinating and well-developed world concept – almost more than I enjoy actually reading the books, I enjoy playing with the world-building and geography in my head after reading. (The same holds true for me, to varying degrees, for series like Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom books and Storm Constantine‘s Wraeththu books.) Shinn writes what I might call “workhorse” fantasy – it’s reliably well-written, and there’s nothing really wrong with it, but it lacks spark and stylistic interest. But after all, having a compelling world is one of the main selling points of fantasy, so Shinn certainly succeeds there, as she also does in her romantic plotlines. Her descriptions do grow a shade purple every now and then, but in general she avoids mush and plays out convincing character chemistry.
But really, it all comes back to the world-building for me. I can’t help wishing that her books would explore more of Samarian culture, particularly that of the angels – I’d love to know details of how angel children are raised, for example…