A Long-Overdue Review: Michelle Belanger's CONSPIRACY OF ANGELS

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

There are character books and there are worldbuilding books.
In the character books, you take an interesting character – Kvothe from The Name of the Wind, or Vlad Taltos from the Dragaeran series – and you follow them around to see what happens to them.  Worldbuilding happens, naturally, but the main thrust is this person’s quest.
Then there’s worldbuilding books, where you take an elaborate magic system and throw some people in it.  Brandon Sanderson’s books tend to be this, as is my ‘mancer series – the character’s goal is to, ultimately, explore as many ramifications of the magic as possible, and the book is designed so they run into as many weird complications of this magic as they can.
But the trick to a good worldbuilding series is that the characters still have to matter.  Yeah, it’s all fine and well to have a fascinating magical system, but you have to like the people at the heart of the story.  Too many worldbuilding books have this energetic swirl of “Ooh, you can do this with the magic!” and then it falls apart into an RPG supplement because what you care about is the magic, not the people.
Michelle Belanger’s A Conspiracy of Angels is a worldbuilding book.  It’s got this monstrously complex and cool hierarchy behind it, where immortal angelic tribes war for supremacy over the Earth in plots that take centuries to come to fruition.  There are tremendously creepy cacodaemons that wire themselves into dead men’s nervous systems, and a massive terror underneath Lake Erie that makes you wonder what Lake Erie ever did to Michelle, and a hero who can step into an alternate universe called The Shadowside and summon flaming double-swords from his palms.
Oh, and there’s ghost ferrets.
How am I not going to love a book with ghost ferrets.
Yet the people in the books are colorful, and Michelle skillfully juggles a large cast of characters and yet makes them all interesting. The six-foot-six scheming transsexual angel Salriel, her oft-reluctant supplicant Remiel, and the Lady of Beasts who was once married to Remiel and also is attracted to our hero Zachary, which is complicated because they’re brothers but I am getting a distinctly poly vibe as to where this relationship might be headed.
You know a book is good when it starts out with my least-favorite trope and yet I’m rooting for the characters by the end.  And that’s what Michelle Belanger’s Conspiracy of Angels does; it takes a literal amnesiac waking up with only a handful of possessions and makes you like the guy.  Yet the amnesia becomes a plot point, because Zachary has his own history – he’s centuries old, like all the other angels – and it’s implied heavily that he didn’t used to be a hero.  He used to be a lot more direct and brutal.  And his relatives, well, they don’t know whether to trust him or whether this amnesia is some weird-ass scheme someone else has tricked him into.
The worldbuilding here feels like she’s put a lot of thought into it, which makes the systems feel real.  (The fact that Michelle is a real-life vampire who teaches classes on magic suggests that she may be channeling her own mojo here.) It gets complicated, and occasionally lost me at times, but the magic does have the sense that there’s a lot we don’t know, but the rabbit hole goes so deep that even the most ancient of powers haven’t quite sussed out all the angles in this world yet.
Plus, A Conspiracy of Angels takes place in Cleveland, and it gets Our Fair City Right – a little grungy, a little workaday, but ultimately full of fun places to take a hero.  It’d a good introduction to what Cleveland is today if you’re not a resident, and if you are, well, there’s a lot of action scenes taking place at locations you’ve almost certainly been to.
So if you’re into fast-paced urban fantasy, this is a book (and an author) you’ll want to check out.  It ends surprisingly well – not where I’d expected, but satisfying.  Recommended.

2 Comments

  1. Eric A. Meyer
    Dec 15, 2015

    Please to be excusing my ignorance, but what exactly does it mean to be “a real-life vampire”?

    • Kokabiel
      Jan 28, 2018

      He is what is known as a Psychic Vampyre. Look up his House Kheperu and Vampire Codex for more information. Basically, there’s really no good term for those who need energy on a regular basis for his/her health. However, those in Kheperu only take energy from known and willing donors. Energy is not taken without consent of the donor or via Ambient Energy which is naturally put off in crowds as in a concert, ball game etc. As he described Remy teaching Zach to do in Conspiracy.

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