Angel Time: Anne Rice Branches Out

Teenage fan girls take note: vampires are so mid-2009.  Now that the vampire stereotype has come full circle, from Stoker’s rabid monsters to Meyers’ glittering gods, angels may develop their own marketing demographic– at least if Anne Rice’s latest series is any indication.  While Rice’s newest work has little of the complexity and sophistication of some of her earlier books, it will doubtless attract new readers who would not otherwise have been interested in her writing.

Angel Time, the first volume in the new The Songs of the Seraphim series, tells the story of a talented young hit man who abruptly leaves his profession in answer to a divine calling.  In Toby O’Dare’s world there really are circumstances in which ‘angels fear to tread’, and the angel Malchiah believes Toby is more suited than he to handle such situations.  Toby’s lifestyle of violence and constant deception somehow failed to fully staunch his childhood faith; oddly enough, however, Malchiah claims it is his unusual capacity for stealth and deception that are needed, not merely his faith.

Toby and Malchiah journey through time to a medieval European city in order to help save a Jewish woman and her family from the local Christians who believe she murdered her own daughter.  The savage emotionalism of the local parish mob is starkly contrasted with the piety and calm rationalism of the accused, painting an ugly picture of anti-semitism which is poignant, if perhaps historically misleading; while violence against Jews doubtless occurred in settings like those described, these tragic attacks were not necessarily as universal as one might infer from Rice’s narrative.  The Medieval portions of the story form a “book within a book” which, while enjoyable, reveals little about Toby’s murderous tendencies or history, and appears nearly unrelated to the modern portions of the narrative.

One hopes that Ms. Rice intends to flesh out her new protagonist more fully in future volumes, as Angel Time’s two-dimensional characters and tenuous plot connections are out of place in an otherwise readable tome by an eminently readable author.

Anne Rice’s provocative works are popular for a reason, and, while Angel Time has some definite weaknesses, it will doubtless do well within its genre.  It’s a fine book if one thinks of it as a sort of cross between a Dan Brown thriller and a Michael Crichton adventure; it makes for good airport reading.  Many fans will struggle to evaluate it apart from Rice’s earlier works, but others who might not have otherwise been interested will discover Rice for the first time.  Given her return a few years ago to the Christianity of her childhood and her commitment to letting her faith inform her recent writing, books like Angel Time may in time become useful tools for attracting secular audiences to the Christian messages in her future books. ‘