Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review of 'The Prison of the Angels' by Janine Ashbless

With The Prison of the Angels, the final installment in her Book of the Watchers trilogy, Janine Ashbless brings this epic erotic-romance saga to a conclusion with a bang of near-apocalyptic intensity. And how could it be otherwise, given what we’ve come to expect thus far in the series?

I’m not sure I can give too much away here without dropping spoilers—everything in this story is essential, and Ashbless never wastes a word. But, to review: in Cover Him with Darkness, Milja frees the fallen angel Azazel from his imprisonment. In the superb middle-installment, In Bonds of the Earth, Azazel sets in motion his plan to free his fellow rebel angels from their ancient prisons, setting up a cosmic showdown with the powers of Heaven. In The Prison of the Angels, the scary feathered beasts come home to roost, the consequences of choices made must at last be faced, the price of love and freedom paid regardless of the cost. Yet, as always, Ashbless ties it all together with such style, such flare, conveying a sense of  inevitability—of ineluctable right-ness—with the plot’s every twist and turn, it’s hard to imagine all hell breaking loose in any other way, Or near half so excitingly, for that matter! Of course, throughout, the sex is wicked hot, and it is sex, after all, desire and lust, that have driven this story from the beginning, and ultimately created the critical mass from which it draws its power.  

But it would be wrong to dismiss this story as just another facile fast-paced sex-action-adventure franchise—though it certainly is fast-paced and often sexy as hell! What I have always admired about Ashbless is her ability to tell riveting erotic stories in a way that recognizes and honors her readers’ intelligence and curiosity, not to mention their willingness to look up the occasional word if they need to. The essential story is never weighed down by excessive literary vocabulary—the author’s voice, or need to prove how smart they are, overwhelming the narrative—but words are used correctly, precisely, and always with thoughtfulness and care. Big ideas are woven into the fabric of the tale with seamless craft to seem as natural a part of the whole as the action-packed set pieces and steamy bedroom scenes.

And—wow!—do I ever love the way Ashbless employs mythology in her stories, perhaps the true hallmark of her style. It doesn’t matter that we largely no longer believe in Zeus or Apollo, Thor and Loki, or the creation mythos of the Hebrew Bible; all these stories—always essentially metaphors—have outlived literal credulity; yet all are still exciting, still thought-provoking, brimming with narrative possibility. The thing Ashbless shows us about myth is that it is malleable; it can be molded and reformed, melded and spliced to suit any time and place. The fascinating angelology in this series comprises far more than the traditional (and rather staid) Judeo-Christian roster; but shows how different cultures may have interpreted the same archetypes in different ways. The Norse trickster god, Loki, becomes the tempter of Genesis, the fallen serpent-angel Samyaza; the Archangel Michael assumes the form of something out of Native American myth… It all makes for a wonderful, engaging, multi-layered story that touches the mind as well as the heart, yet is always fun to read!

Perhaps, the author is speaking directly to her readers through the character of Pemenuel, the angel of the written word, when she describes the power of story in this passage from The Prison of the Angels:

“The humans have done something remarkable. Something we could not. They have created new worlds. Worlds where decisions are made for good or evil, where hearts are broken and won, where hope is found and innocence lost. I have been to these worlds. They are real realms of the spirit.”

“Books?” said Azazel with contempt. “Just words!”

“No. They are places that the human spirit goes to be reborn. Landscapes and people that they recognize, just as they recognize their own homes. Places as real as your memory…”

In The Prison of the Angels, as in the books that preceded it, Janine Ashbless has created an extraordinary new world, a “real realm of the spirit” that is a sheer pleasure to visit.

Enthusiastically recommended.

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