I enjoy Rebecca Roanhorse’s writing, see my reviews of Trail of Lightning and Black Sun. So when I had the opportunity to get hold of the arc of this intriguing novella, I jumped at the chance.
BLURB: High in the remote mountains, the town of Goetia is booming as prospectors from near and far come to mine the powerful new element Divinity. Divinity is the remains of the body of the rebel Abaddon, who fell to earth during Heaven’s War, and it powers the world’s most inventive and innovative technologies, ushering in a new age of progress. However, only the descendants of those that rebelled, called Fallen, possess the ability to see the rich lodes of the precious element. That makes them a necessary evil among the good and righteous people called the Elect, and Goetia a town segregated by ancestry and class.
Celeste and Mariel are two Fallen sisters, bound by blood but raised in separate worlds. Celeste grew up with her father, passing in privileged Elect society, while Mariel stayed with their mother in the Fallen slums of Goetia. Upon her father’s death, Celeste returns to Goetia and reunites with Mariel. Mariel is a great beauty with an angelic voice, and Celeste, wracked by guilt for leaving her sister behind, becomes her fiercest protector…
REVIEW: I have cut short the rather chatty blurb and recommend that you give it a miss if you don’t want your reading experience Spoilt. Given this isn’t a long read, you really don’t want to go into it knowing more than the bare essentials.
I quickly bonded with Celeste, who hasn’t had an easy time of it. Her overwhelming need to keep her sister safe within a rapacious society where the Fallen are automatically at the bottom of the heap shines through. I found her protectiveness endearing, especially when I realised the price she’d already paid to keep looking after Mariel. This drive certainly informs her actions throughout the rest of the book, when a grisly murder occurs and Mariel is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I hadn’t initially appreciated that this was a novella, or I had and then completely forgot about it by the time I got around to reading it, which is probably more likely. But it’s a tricky length to write well and only a relatively few authors manage to pull it off entirely successfully, in my experience.
I was impressed at how much of the world and scene setting unfolds within the narrative, as Celeste desperately scrambles to exonerate her sister. It’s a fascinating world, where the Fallen are immediately identified by their eye colour and because their ancestors happened to be on the wrong side of a heavenly war – they are automatically a downtrodden underclass. However, it’s the Fallen who can identify the valuable remains of Abaddon, whose body fell to Earth during the war. While the Elect reap the financial rewards, it’s the Fallen who have to mine the precious element that powers their Divine inventions. This tension is played out within Celeste’s family, as her Elect father took her away from the rough mining town that is Goetia to mix with respectable Elect society while Mariel and their Fallen mother had to stay behind. Once their father died, Celeste immediately returned to look after her sister feeling guilty and ashamed at having abandoned her and promising never to do so again.
I was swept along by Celeste’s increasing desperation – and a bit floored by the ending. While it certainly works and has had me thinking a lot about the outcome, I’m also left with wanting more. The world is interesting and I found Celeste and Mariel’s adventure riveting, but ultimately also a tad frustrating, as I felt the story ended a bit abruptly. I want to know how both Celeste and Mariel cope with the sudden change in their circumstances. I very much hope that Roanhorse will revisit this world in the future – more please! While I obtained an arc of Tread of Angels from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.