A Guest review by Jenre
A surprisingly unique set of stories all of which contain the theme of angels or having a helping hand to love by a supernatural force.
Guardian spirits walk among us. They are heavenly beings who grant courage, unknown benefactors who offer help, best friends who lend their strength, and celestial beings who embody inspiration. You might not recognize these everyday angels or messengers of mercy, but the men in this anthology are touched by their purity and light and sometimes blessed by love.
I have to admit that I was a bit unsure about getting this anthology. Not because I thought the writing would be bad, or that I wouldn’t enjoy the stories; I had simply convinced myself that the stories were all going to be far too similar in theme and therefore I would get bored of the anthology before the end. I’m quite glad to say that this wasn’t the case at all and I was surprised at how varied the themes within each of the stories turned out to be.
The theme that I thought would be most prevalent in the anthology is that of the guardian angel who falls in love with his charge. This story or a variation of that theme did appear in the anthology on a few occasions, but was so well done by most of the authors that two of those stories turned out to be amongst my favourites. The Angel Blues by Cornelia Grey told of world weary cop Morgan who is visited by a strange man. The man appears and disappears at random, causing Morgan to suspect that he is going insane, especially when he holds conversation with the strange man. This story had one of my favourite lines in it which made me smile. Morgan asks the strange man, who he now convinced is his guardian angel, what his name is, to which the reply is, Spencer:
Morgan snorted a half-laugh. “Right. What kind of angel has a name like Spencer? It should sound, like, aristocratic. Something snobby and important, you know. Maybe in French,” he added, suddenly intrigued. French did seem very apt for an angel.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” the angel—Spencer, whatever—said, cocking his head to the side. “I’ll make sure I bring this very important matter up during the next council. All angels should switch their names to French.”
The second story containing this theme that I liked is The Platypus Learns Astrophysics by Matthew Vandrew. The story follows bad tempered Jonas who is not impressed when an angel appears in his office wanting to change his life. When things go pear shaped, Jonas is stuck with the angel until they can figure out how to clear up the problem. The mix of the sarcastic Jonas and the confused angel, coupled with a sharp witty tone to the writing, made this a delightful story to read.
Another theme which cropped up from time to time is that of the angel who uses his powers to help two men who are in trouble or to get them together. In A Voice in the Darkness by Patric Michael, two men are trapped in a car after a rock slide falls on their car. Landon comes round to find his husband, Bryce, unconscious and possibly badly injured. The voice of a strange man outside the car, helps Landon through the ordeal and gives him the encouragement to escape his confinement. This was a poignant story, told partly through flashback, of the relationship between Landon and Bryce and how they came to be travelling that lonely road in a storm. I was gripped by the tension of their present situation, which then contrasted nicely with the parts which showed their love for each other. Another story which used this theme was a much sweeter and light-hearted story, The Archangel of Castro by Diana Copland, which told of a kind hearted older man, Nick, who is in love with Brian, a younger man but Nick’s low self esteem means that he thinks he has no chance of love with him. It takes a nudge from a very unusual angel to get them together.
I liked the stories which took the angel mythology and worked it into the story. For example, my favourite story from the anthology, Redemption by Clare London, took place in the “Arrivals Hall” of what seemed to be hell. Ziba takes men to work for him so that they can eventually redeem themselves. His attention is drawn to a man, kneeling unobtrusively at the back of the hall. The story then follows Ziba’s relationship with this man and his reasons for being at the arrivals hall. The atmosphere of the story was full of oppressiveness and sorrow at the beginning and I liked how this gradually changed as the story progressed. I also liked the faint note of hope running through the story.
There were many other stories I could recommend from the anthology and honourable mentions should go to The Tenth Avatar by Roland Graeme, which told the story of a Indian gay man whose relationship with a delivery man causes him to evaluate his life and his Hindu faith; and In the Hands of the Gods by Jana Denardo whose historical story set in ancient Pompeii, gave an insight into the customs and expectations of living in Roman society.
There were also a couple of stories to which I had mixed feelings. Sariel by Mary Calmes, began really well with a great mixture of horror, sexual tension and angelic mythology, but I felt it lost its way a little towards the end and that the HEA was a little forced. Also A Trail of Feathers by Sarah Ann Watts, was well written but the dreamlike quality to the writing left me feeling a little disconnected to the events and characters.
Overall, I would recommend this anthology. Its themes and characters are varied, the writing is consistently good throughout all the stories, and the ideas are well constructed and executed. If you like fantasy stories then this should be an anthology which appeals to you. I’ll also say that for those of you who don’t really like angel stories, the definition of ‘angel’ in this anthology is wide enough that I think that many of the stories should still appeal to you too. I think I shall find myself re-reading some of these stories again in the future, which to me is a sign of a good anthology.