Saturday, August 18, 2012

Breath of Angel

Title: Breath of Angel

Series: Angelaeon Circle #1

Author: Karyn Henley

Genre: Adult Supernatural Fantasy

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Breath of Angel:

The prick of the thorn drew blood, but Melaia smiled. The last ramble rose of the season was well worth a pierced thumb. She carefully drew the blossom from the vine that clung to the side of the temple. As she breathed its rich, sweet scent, she sensed someone watching and looked up, expecting to see one of the novice priestesses. She saw only dry leaves skittering across the flagstones of the walled courtyard, along with a black feather, no doubt from a bird scavenging seeds in the woodpile. 

Then a haggard young man stepped through the gate, and Melaia drew back. The chill autumn breeze riffled the edge of his dirt-stained cloak, revealing the corner of a journey pack and the hilt of a dagger.

Melaia gave him a tentative nod.

“I’ve come—” His voice was dirt dry. He wiped his fist across his mouth.

“I’ll fetch water.” Melaia tucked the rose into her waist sash and headed for the stone urn by the arched doorway. “Travelers are always welcome at our temple. We’ve pallets if you wish to stay the night.” She would have to check with the high priestess, but Hanni rarely turned away weary travelers. 

A priestess witnesses a stranger’s murder, pulling her into the center of an ancient feud. 

Craft: Breath of Angel is an engaging tale of the supernatural against a fantasy backdrop. 

From the opening pages on, the plot rivets the reader with intense action and some unexpected twists.
Many of the characters are likeable, even charming, and yet shaded with deception or uncertain motives so that you never know who to quite trust. This unpredictability increases the tension even further, and complex relationships play out before a typical medieval world touched with the wildness of the supernatural.

Overall, Breath of Angel is a well-crafted novel that my storyteller’s heart relished.

Content: Unfortunately, the pleasure of the story was largely crushed under weighty concerns about the content.

The main theme (learning to forgive, including those who have betrayed your trust) is sound. While I might have wished for the theme to be mined further, what is presented squares with Scripture. Beyond this, however, my concerns multiplied. They are mainly concentrated in two areas.

The first main area deals with the portrayal of angels. Up front I admit this is an area which I haven’t study in great depth in the Bible, and my knowledge is limited. Also, I understand some creative liberties must be taken because we don’t know much about angels. However, the end product should still conform to the truth we do know. Creativity should be reserved for filling in the blanks. This becomes even more important since the terminology and certain discussions (such as about the stars’ beltway) seems to link this fantasy world to the real world and therefore to real angels.

What I find instead are distortions that seem to play up the obscure facts and minimize the better established. For example, angels can produce children with humans if the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 refers to angels. And that is an if. But then to deduce from there that angels mate with angels to produce offspring? That seems a bit of a leap, and I know of no proof that angels can or do mate among themselves. In fact, it is probably more likely they don’t, as they are spiritual beings, having no fleshly body.

This would also cause me to draw the conclusion that they cannot be killed either, as portrayed in chapter 1. For while angels may take on a human appearance, that doesn’t mean they take on an earthly body too. Even God Himself had to be “born of a woman” to be able to die, though He took on a human appearance at times before Christ’s Incarnation.

Nor does this deal with other issues raised—like whether angelic beings have gender (most likely not, and even when they take on a gender, it’s always male except in Zechariah 5, which has other matters to consider) or the problem of wings (e.g. the six-winged seraphim in Isaiah 6 vs. the wingless messengers in Genesis 19). And can you really justify a supposedly good angelic being who bears children by two different men, both of whom are alive during the same period? Yes, you can rationalize it within the story context—but then again, Adam and Eve rationalized their eating of the Tree. The ability to rationalize an action does not make it right.

So issue compounds upon issue. While little of this may directly contradict Scripture, it seems to compose a distorted view of what it does teach. And truthfully, it causes me to ask a hard question, the kind I don’t like to ask: if the created is not presented in a trustworthy way, can any words spoken about the Creator be trusted? I honestly don’t know.

And this brings me to the second area of concern. However, this review is already of considerable length, so I will postpone that discussion until my upcoming review of Eye of the Sword, as it applies there as well as here.

Summary: Breath of Angel presents a well-crafted story, the kind that makes content more easily absorbed. When the core is solid, this is great; when the content is questionable or erroneous, this can be very dangerous. Therefore, the blurred edges of this story cause me grave concern, and I must recommend great caution in approaching it, best avoided by those lacking discernment and/or extensive biblical knowledge.

Ratings: Craft—4, Content—2, Overall—2.6 out of 5 stars


Keanan Brand said...

Good review.

I see your concerns about the portrayal of angels, and had those same concerns when reading the second book, Eye of the Sword, but I tried to look at the novel as what it was: fantasy. I'll certainly not be using it for Bible study materials, but it's a solid story.

Julie Bihn said...

Your concerns mirrored my concerns with Eye of the Sword almost exactly, though I haven't read Breath of Angel. I wonder if we both reveal similar additional concerns about Eye of the Sword tomorrow! (My rating system, however, doesn't expressly rate the Christian content, so my overall rating may come out differently from yours.)

Great review.