Saturday, 5 July 2014

Angel City: Jon Steele

This is yer proverbial difficult second novel, by which I mean it was flat out difficult to read. I haven’t been this fed up with a sequel since I waded into Guillermo del Toro’s soon to be a TV show. In the end I rushed through it just to get it over with; it’s hard to wonder if the editors weren’t doing the same thing.

Angel City is a follow up to The Watchers, a rather better book which I read about a year ago. At the time I said that it seemed like two books had collided with each other and that I’d have been happier reading either one on its own than both at the same time. Angel City helped me out on that analysis, delivering a followup to the loud, bangy, messy back third of The Watchers and it turns out that I wasn’t happier reading a book that was all about the loud, bangy, messy stuff. So I know that much, I guess.

As I said at the time, I’m a sucker for books and movies about angels and demons juking it out in our mundane world. Sucker being the key word here; I keep going back for more, despite the endless disappointments. Angel City is the middle book of a trilogy which is - as far as I can tell - all about manichaean duality and the secret history of the world, and usefully enough it’s shining proof that middles are bad things. It’s bad to be in the middle between two extremes, and it’s bad to be the middle book of an idea which had a perfectly good start and might well have an interesting end, but didn’t have any particularly well thought out road to get from one to the other. 

Instead, the surviving characters from The Watchers faff about in Occitania/Paris and Every-small-town-USA, waiting for the good acid to kick in. There’s nothing all that interesting going on. Worse than that, the whole world runs on magic and potions now, so that half the time the impossible is routine and the other half, normality is impossible. Pretty early on, I lost all sense of hazard or even narrative continuity; stuff was going to happen to the characters and then magic would upset my expectations and then something else would happen which wouldn’t have much to do with whatever I was already beginning to forget. Acronyms and military brand names are tossed around in a desperate effort to give gritty reality to what’s happening. What’s really happened is that the gritty, under-provisioned and down-at-heel heroes of the last book have been approximated into an organisation that has the kind of resources that usually only belong to fictional super-villains, and no amount of Guns and the City namedropping is going to do anything to make up for that. There ought to be a word for authors strewing around jargon in an effort to make the incredible credible.

For the rest of it, there’s pointless time travel, because I seem to be tripping over that all the time these days, and there’s an imperilled baby of god, and there’s a cliffhanger ending which just left me wishing the cliff would collapse on everyone, and most importantly of all, there’s no sign of the quality writing which made me buy the first book off the back of the lyrical prologue. 

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