Angel-Seeker is the sequel to Sharon Shinn’s wonderful novel, Archangel. Shinn’s subsequent books in this series, Jovah’s Angel, The Alleluia Files, and Angelica were solid reads, but not as satisfying for me personally, so I approached this one with hope but not expectation. Happily, I found it to be almost as good as Archangel and a delightful visit to a fascinating world.
Angel-Seeker weaves together the lives of two Samarian women whose futures become entangled with the angels. Elizabeth is tired of being poor, tired of working sunup to sundown on her cousin’s farm without any recompense. She believes she is meant for greater things. So she journeys to the new angel hold at Cedar Hills, hoping to attract an angel and fall in love. Though that seems unlikely, considering how exalted the social position of angels are, she would settle for bearing an angel baby – which would therefore entitle her to the luxuries of the angel hold for life.
Rebekah, on the other hand, doesn’t go seeking an angel; one comes to her. Obadiah, newly arrived at Cedar Hills, has been given the task of communicating with the Jansai in Breven. The archangel Gabriel made many enemies amongst the merchant Jansai when he declared an end to the enslavement of the Edori in Samaria (thus costing the Jansai their slaves), and now there is trouble brewing. Since Obadiah is leagues better at diplomacy than Gabriel, the task falls to him. But on his way back from his first Breven visit, he is shot down from the sky by a weapon that shoots fire. He falls to the desert and is on the point of death when Rebekah, out drawing water for her family’s caravan, discovers him. Rebekah knows she should ignore him. She is Jansai and a female, and thus an angel man is no one she should help or even meet, but she can’t help herself. This beautiful being is in need, she is there, and soon they are in love. But for Rebekah, this is a deadly situation. If her family ever finds out about Obadiah, they will show her no mercy. Jansai women must be pure, obedient, quiet, and meek. And the ones that are not – die.
There is so much to love about Shinn’s ancient Samaria. She has created a complex world with fully defined ethnic, socio-economic, and cultural groups. At the top of Samarian society are the angels – the beautiful, supernaturally strong, musically gifted ones. Yet viewing them through Elizabeth’s eyes, it’s obvious that they are also arrogant, promiscuous, and condescending. The wandering Edori are friendly, warm, family-oriented, and generous, but they are also disorganized and unambitious. The Jansai are everything the Edori aren’t: crafty, structured, energetic, and astute. But they are also strictly patriarchal and controlling. Each group has reason to distrust and disapprove of the others, and their interactions are realistic and fascinating. Shinn does let her bias against patriarchal societies show through, however. It would have been nice to have seen a few more positive characteristics of Jansai men. It is understandable, though, given whose perspective this story is told through.
Shinn spends the majority of her narrative on Rebekah, who is in the most difficult situation. She’s about to be married off to the man of her step-father’s choosing. She will not know him at all before the wedding, and after that she will be his chattel to do with what he will. At twenty, Rebekah is old to be unmarried. She has a rather undefined status in her step-father’s house. She cares for her baby brother and does household tasks, but otherwise she has a good deal of unoccupied time. Jansai women live in seclusion and cannot travel, even within the city without a male escort. Consequently, Rebekah and her rebellious cousin Martha have a great deal of time to worry about their futures, commit small rebellions, and complain about Jansai rules. When she meets Obadiah and sees that he is gentle, kind, and genuinely interested in who she is as a person, she cannot turn her face away, even if it puts her in danger. His love is likely the only love she will ever know.
Obadiah is very appealing. Eclipsed by Gabriel in Archangel, he was nevertheless a bright spot in that book, and it’s wonderful to see him get his own story. He falls in love with Rebekah very quickly, for reasons that are somewhat inadequately explained, and then spends the rest of the book trying to deal with the intricacies of Jansai society that he previously dismissed as simplistic, barbaric, and cruel.
Elizabeth’s story was well done too. Throughout Archangel the angels sneeringly talk about the angel-seekers – the camp followers of the Samarian world. These woman are motivated most often by the wealth of the angel holds but many of them are just angel groupies. Here we get a chance to see what motivates these women to put themselves in this type of situation. Elizabeth goes to Cedar Hills seeking a better life, to be close to art and culture and money. And she does allow herself to be used. But her story is primarily about personal growth and self-empowerment. What she finds in Cedar Hills isn’t at all what she was looking for, but it’s exactly what she needs.
Angel-Seeker is a well-structured, skillfully written novel filled with emotionally brave and generous characters. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Obadiah, Gabriel, Rachel, Nathan, and Magdalena again and was happy to meet Rebekah and Elizabeth. I do hope that Shinn keeps returning to this lovely world she’s created. I’ve become addicted, and I need more Samaria stories!