Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: "Archon," by Sabrina Benulis

In her debut novel, “Archon” ($14.99, Harper Voyager), Sabrina Benulis offers up an intriguing idea, but the execution leaves me with mixed feelings.

Angela Mathers is a troubled child. Obsessed with angels, Angela has a death wish that she seems unable to accomplish, no matter how she tries. Knives won’t penetrate to her vitals, guns misfire. She’s even tried to burn herself, which ended with the deaths of her parents and severe scarring to her body, but she survived. Now, she’s gotten out of an asylum after that incident and has been enrolled in West Wood, an academy run by the Vatican on the island of Luz. She’s been accepted both because of her artwork of angels and the fact that she’s a bloodhead, a term originating from a prophecy that says a redhead will become the Archon, referred to by most as the Ruin, who will challenge the devil for the throne of Hell.

Things go badly for Angela almost as soon as she arrives at the academy. She runs afoul of a powerful witch, Stephanie, who runs a powerful sorority and does pretty much as she pleases on the island. She can’t find her brother, who she’s come to the academy in part to apologize to for the death of their parents. She gets involved with a novice priest named Kim, who has been claimed by Stephanie, and has a secret of his own. And there’s a brutal serial killer loose on the island.

Despite the dark tone, at first, it seems that “Archon” might develop into some kind of romance angle, but stick with it, and it gets very grim in a hurry. There are a lot of things flying around and moving so fast that the plot can become a little confused, and Benulis never really builds enough sympathy in me for Angela in the early going. Yes, she’s been mistreated and you feel sorry for her, but at the same time, she’s a bit hard to like.

That said, there are some compelling sequences in the book. Benulis’ vision of the angels is refreshing and original, and holds a lot of promise for future exploration. Her angels, demons and jinns are more interesting characters than her humans, and I’d like to see them developed a little more in future volumes and learn a little more about their society and its structure.

I enjoyed “Archon,” but I was not  blown away by it. To me, it was a book with great promise that didn’t quite reach its potential. It was good enough that I’ll probably give the second volume a chance, hoping that it builds and fleshes things out more, but I can’t recommend it without some reservations.

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