Two weeks ago, at the Missouri Writer’s Guild Conference, I met a girl named Alexandra Rowland, whose passion for writing was unquenchable. I was impressed from the get-go at her drive, her exuberance, and the fact that she, a year younger than me, seemed to have her writerly shit together way more than I do. Example: The fact that she has already self-published her first book, a fantasy post-apocalyptic story (but not in the way you probably think of post-apocalyptic) about an angel and a demon who become unlikely friends.
While we were chatting at the conference, she pulled out a copy of her book (of which she apparently had several hanging out, ready to sell – a born strategist, apparently) and gave it to me to read the prologue. By the end of the first page, I was laughing out loud. The prologue is told from the perspective of God and features a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek humor. “Pretend that you’re God for a minute,” she writes. “Some of you may find this particularly easy.” (I laughed right then and there.) As you imagine yourself as God, Rowland asks you to imagine an incomparable amount of boredom. “You toy with the idea of knitting for a while and discard it, since the Void wouldn’t appreciate even a scarf, let alone something hard like a sweater or, heavens forfend, a pair of socks.” The idea of the almighty deity knitting a pair of socks for the Void (not to mention the Void not appreciating said deity’s efforts) had me laughing far more than was reasonable. The rest of the prologue continues as such, demonstrating Rowland’s not-inconsiderable writing talents, as well as her quirky sense of comedy.
The rest of the book is quite different – though often no less funny. It chronicles The End, i.e. the apocalypse, and what happens as a result to a Fallen angel named Lucien, who has spent much of the last eternity in the Middle Realm, i.e. Earth. Lucien has grown rather fond of Earth, and is at first troubled and terrified when he realizes that the world is ending. But when the Angels and Demons gather to do battle one last time before the End of Eternity, Lucien decides to sit the battle out. Instead, watching as a spectator, he eventually runs into a desperate and rather pathetic angel named Lalael, who immediately tries to kill Lucien out of distrust for the Fallen angel. But when the Heavens rend and the pits of Hell open, and the armies of the Angels and Demons flee back to their respective homes, both Lucien and Lalael are left behind, on Earth.
What follows is the account of how the two of them survive and interact with the humans who remain – because every human who was a True Believer (i.e. someone religious) had been dissolved into dust so that the angels and demons could use the power of their belief to do battle. At times hunted, feared, and preyed upon, Lucien and Lalael grow in their friendship and are eventually discovered as supernatural beings – at which point the humans begin to worship them as gods.
The plot is intriguing and kept my interest, but at times it lacked for pacing. The first third of the book, which is driven by the apocalypse, Lalael and Lucien’s meeting, and the resulting chaos, moves along quickly and engagingly. The middle section seemed to collapse a bit, because the plot didn’t seem to be driving towards anything. There was no ultimate goal, and it felt as though we were just listing along towards an eventual conclusion, but I had no sense of what that was going to be. It’s only when another angel is introduced, two-thirds of the way through the book, that the plot starts to revive again and you can feel the engines humming to life.
Lucien and Lalael are well drawn and engaging, though perhaps at times a little too similar in their personalities. Sometimes during their discussions it’s hard to follow the conversation, whether because the dialogue wasn’t tagged well enough or because their speech habits were just a little too similar to tell one from the other. Both are bitingly sarcastic and quick to judge. But their overall characters are different enough that you come to know and love them for their quirks, their passions, and their very distinct backgrounds.
One thing the book lacks for are compelling well-drawn secondary characters. There are plenty of tertiary characters, who flit in and out of the background, but the closest thing Rowland gets to a secondary character is Mara and the angel Jocelyn, both of whom show up at least past the halfway point in the book. Mara’s character is the most interesting, but we don’t get quite enough screen-time with her; as for Jocelyn, I never understood why or how she/he/it appeared, and his/her/its motivations were never very clear.
Overall, the strength of the book is in the writing. Here is an author whose words shine, whose dialogue is (for the most part) lively and engaging, not to mention comical. Here is a writer who, at a tender young age, has a thorough grasp of how to write a compelling, powerful sentence, how to artfully draw a world around you with words, how to bring a character to life. So, to finish this review, I’m going to cite one of my favorite quotes from the book, as hard evidence of Rowland’s writing skills.
For a moment, everything was in darkness. It seemed to the angel as if he had been separated from the world for a single moment in time – a moment and yet an eternity, for it felt like he had wandered through a silent labyrinth darker than the deepest coal mine. Like a dream, he wandered, and found things in the darkness – cold, secret things that no one, immortal or otherwise, should know. Secrets of the world he found, secrets of what wasn’t the world, shameful things and sorrows, ill will and sicknesses. It was a Pandora’s box, this maze of choking night, and though he searched for a fraction of a second and for an eternity and a day, he couldn’t find the Hope that he knew should be just beyond the next twist, just ahead after the next turn. He gathered the despairing darkness into both hands, cradled it to himself with the secrets, and then knew that now, when he was more lost than he’d ever been, when his soul seemed to tear itself apart, that he couldn’t depend on anyone else’s salvation to find him … he had to make his own. (Kindle loc. 5782).
So, now that you know that the girl can write, do yourself a favor and go buy her book. You’ll be supporting a young, incredibly promising writer, purchasing some quality entertainment, and of course, helping the indie fiction world grow. Keep an eye on this young writer, and check out her blog as well, for updates and more info: http://alexandrarowland.wordpress.com.
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal
Rating: 3 / 5 stars