I can’t remember the last time I just picked up a book from a bookstore bookshelf without knowing anything about it besides what was on the back cover. In fact, of the many book reviews I’ve written on this blog, I have never reviewed a book for which I knew neither the title nor the author by reputation before I read it. Since I had an empty reading list this summer while I was waiting for a couple of new titles to come out, I decided to try it for a change, and I liked what I found.
Archangel is the first novel by sci-fi author Marguerite Reed and Book 1 of an anticipated series, The Chronicles of Ubastis. I bought it because from the description, it looked like the closest new novel to the good, old-fashioned, “strange new worlds” sci-fi. It wasn’t exactly that, but it was an enjoyable read that raised a lot of thought-provoking questions.
In the 24th century, Earth is so polluted as to be nearly uninhabitable. Humans have spread throughout the galaxy, searching for a new home, and they have found a potential paradise on the planet Ubastis. But, fearful that the human race won’t be able to live on Ubastis for more than a century without ruining it like Earth, the scientist-colonists who study it have strictly limited their population to a few thousand and hardly dare touch the ecosystem outside their small cities. Needless to say, there are powerful political interests against this.
Vashti Loren is a very rare breed: a hunter. In an era when a majority of the population is genetically modified to reduce aggressive tendencies, she takes wealthy offworlders hunting the dinosaur-like big game of Ubastis to get scientific samples and money for the colony. Four years after the gruesome death of her husband, the colony’s figurehead, at the hands of Beasts–genetically-modified super-soldiers–Vashti meets another Beast under suspicious circumstances. She only wants revenge, but the Beast brings a warning: Ubastis’s political enemies are moving against her, and only swift action will stop them being overwhelmed by colonists.
This book wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was a very interesting story with a lot of deep themes. Some of them were a little off-putting, like the hyper-environmentalism and the cavalier attitude towards genetic engineering of humans, but even these were thought-provoking and raised a lot of interesting questions–so many that I’ll need a whole other post to unpack them. I was a little disappointed that these issues weren’t explored in more detail, if they were intentional, but I suppose that’s fine for a Book 1. The writing may still be a bit rough around the edges, but the political intrigue was fun and suspenseful, the social world was well-described, especially for a non-western culture, and the subplot of Vashti being forced to overcome her prejudices was well-played.
My other criticism of the book is that I didn’t understand the title. I’m pretty sure the word “archangel” doesn’t appear once in the text. It was only when I looked inside the front cover and saw that the title of the anticipated sequel is Legion that I figured out that “Archangel” probably refers to the Beast, which is a clever move.
Overall, I’d rate Archangel as a pretty good start by an up-and-coming author, and I’m interested to see when the sequel rolls out.
My rating: 4 out of 5.