Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Published on 1 October 2019
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
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More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.
A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.
Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.
But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.
The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfill her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else. . .
I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Garth Nix is the Australian master of worldbuilding.
I’m not even joking.
Y’all should know that I don’t deliberately seek out male authors (because male authors tend to write books for men about men to the detriment of women) but Nix is one of my exceptions, and I’m happy to share that Angel Mage is not only an equal society gender-wise, with no sexism and many women in power and no labels like gay or straight, but it’s also racially diverse, with most of the characters referred to as having brown skin but also one of the main characters has red hair and presumably the corresponding white skin that tends to go with that, and no one is racist and everything is freaking believable because Nix is just THAT GOOD at presenting this believable alternate fantasy world.
Hoo, I need to remember to breathe.
Oh my gosh this was a big book.
To be honest I’m not really into big books! When The Priory of the Orange Tree was dense worldbuilding and throwing you in without explaining anything and like 800 pages I was like WHOA NELLY I don’t have time for this. I haven’t finished it! I am not a book traitor, it was just BORING in those opening pages and I had to keep looking everything up, and everyone only seemed to get excited right at the end and some people told me “it only really kicks in at about 100 pages!”
Well guess what? UNLIKE what I read about The Priory of the Orange Tree, Angel Mage had action in the very first chapter, it had monsters eating people and swashbuckling swordfighters and magical (women) religious figures and a mystery from the very first page, and I’m telling you, THAT is how you tell a story that’s in excess of 500 pages. Even when I had to look up the meaning of more words than I’d like to admit, being an English major.
However, looking up those words was totally worth it because in this book Nix showcases his mastery of the English language by selecting the absolute perfect if somewhat obscure word to demonstrate his meaning. For example, instead of saying ‘dressed in richly coloured decorative clothing similar to common depictions of a medieval knight’s horse’, he used the word ‘caparisoned’. Instead of saying simply ‘helmet’, he used ‘morion’, which, according to my dictionary, is ‘a kind of helmet without beaver or visor, worn by soldiers in the 16th and 17th centuries’. And I tell you, that very precise word illustrates a whole lot more than ‘helmet’ ever will. Instead of ‘armour’ or ‘breastplate’, he used ‘curass’, which is ‘a piece of armour consisting of breastplate and backplate fastened together’. The language is so precise and, if you’re a dumbass who graduated from an English degree ten years ago like me and have to look it up, so vividly illustrative.
Those three examples were taken from the opening pages, but it doesn’t stop there. If you don’t like looking up word meanings, you’ll still get the general gist of it, but it really shows how Nix selects the perfect words to illustrate his story.
The magic system was so unique: some people can be trained in the art of angel-summoning using icons – depictions of angels – some people can make icons, and even less can make icons and summon angels, and direct them to perform a task within their scope, but at a cost to the summoner. The most powerful angel summoner is the Cardinal, and that’s how religion works.
I didn’t expect to love the four friends of the book: gentle, gifted Dorotea; reckless warrior Agnes; gentle giant and healer Simeon; and Henri, who only wants to become rich with little effort; each beautifully wrought with individual motivations, dialogue, and characterisations. I couldn’t help but fall in love with their instant kinship and desire to be part of their exclusive little gang.
Similarly, I was simultaneously rooting for Liliath to succeed in her terrible quest while at the same time, longing for my new Fab Four to survive and flourish. Liliath was such an awesome, ruthless character, unapologetic with single-minded determinism, and I loved watching her cunning mind and manipulations help her to achieve her goals. She was truly a great villainess: ruthless, ambitious, powerful, beautiful, terrible… and most of all, sympathetic.
So yeah, everything about this book was amazing and if you’ve read other Nix books, or if you’re into fantasy, or if you’ve read The Priory of the Orange Tree and liked it or not liked it for whatever reason (or want to read it but find it too intimidating) then I wholeheartedly recommend you spend a few good nights with Angel Mage.