Title: Jovah's Angel
Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: 1997, Ace
Category: Science Fiction
Jovah's Angel is the second in Shinn's Samaria series. I read the first, Archangel, a while ago and enjoyed the writing but was completely annoyed by the heroine. But I've like Shinn's other books much better, so I had to give this series another try. And I'm so glad I did, because I loved this one.
The world of Samaria is ruled by a small group of angels, which are led by an Archangel. These angels sing to their god, praying for rain during drought, medicine for the sick, and seed when crops fail. The god has always provided what they pray for. But now the angel's prayers seem to be in vain. It's been storming for months and nothing the angels do makes any difference. During one of these storms, the Archangel, Delilah, is thrown to the ground and breaks her wing. The god surprises everyone by naming Alleluia as the next Archangel. Quiet and unassuming, she is considered by many as a bad choice who will be unable to deal with the politics of ruling.
Alleluia does not particularly want to be Archangel, but she'll do what she has to to help Samaria. In an effort to figure out why the angels' prayers are not being answered, she travels to the oracles and has them ask the god what to do. The god's answer is extremely cryptic. Trying to make sense of this, she studies the ancient texts and her discoveries make her question the very nature of the god itself. She is helped by a moral, Caleb Augustus, a scientist who has lost faith in the god.
I love Shinn's writing style--it's so solid, meaty but still fluid. The language is lovely; the way she describes the angels' singing is beautiful and just amazingly effective. And the romance is so well done. It never overpowers the rest of the plotline, but still manages to be integral to the story. And I was happy that I found it soooo much easier to relate to Alleluia than to Rachel (the heroine of Archangel). I loved her and Caleb both.
And the world-building is so interesting! The world of Samaria is very original, and there are some pretty shocking developments in this book. Before reading Jovah's Angel, I was sort of sad that each book in this series is each set a century apart, so we don't get to see any of the same characters in the sequels. But I changed my mind when I realized that this set-up allows us to see how the world of Samaria is evolving. Archangel is set in a completely pre-Industrial era. In Jovah's Angel, the Samarians are starting to make scientific discoveries, and we see how that is changing the way people think about religion.
The devoutly religious might find the book disturbing, but I thought the discussions of science vs. faith were fascinating. Highlight for BIG spoiler [read the book first!!]: I had already read somewhere that the god was actually a spaceship (I wish I hadn't known!), but I liked the way Shinn dropped clues throughout. And when Alleya's at the oracle and the god says to SEND HELP--well, I was enthralled. ;) I also thought that Alleya's reactions to finding out that her god was a machine were great. She's upset but not crushed--she deals with the fall-out rationally and with great intelligence. :)
I moved right on to the next in the series, The Alleluia Files. And I talked Twin into reading Shinn's Twelve Houses series, and she's loving it just like I said she would. (A few minutes ago she made a little squeal and said, "Tayse was captured!!" Oh no!) :p