Pacing hurts 'Angelology'

“Angelology” by Danielle Trussoni (Viking, 452 pages, $27.95)

Danielle Trussoni’s first novel (following her memoir “Falling Through Earth”) is part thriller, part fantasy, part intellectual odyssey. Which part a reader expects may determine how well it is enjoyed.

Trussoni creates a story out of an obscure verse in the Bible (Genesis 6:4), which reads: “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them.”

“Angelology” lays out a conflict between the “Nephilim,” descendants of angels and humans, and the faithful angelologists who have devoted their lives to fighting them. The Nephilim are “beautiful, iridescent monsters” who have gained powerful positions of wealth and influence and seek to kill everyone — especially angelologists — who get in their way.

The story alternates between events during the last week or so of 1999 and those leading up to and following a discovery in the mountains of Bulgaria in 1943. The earlier period provides much exposition of how the Nephilim came to be and is slow reading. The later period (1999) is where the pace quickens and the suspense and action build.

Sister Evangeline, 23, is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at St. Rose Convent in upstate New York. She discovers letters between the convent’s late mother superior and the famous philanthropist Abigail Rockefeller.

Meanwhile, art historian Verlaine has discovered other information about St. Rose Convent in his research on Abigail Rockefeller while working for a strange client, Percival Grigori. Verlaine travels to the convent and talks with Evangeline. Soon they are in over their heads in a conflict that goes back centuries, even millennia.

But just as the suspense is building, Trussoni takes us back to the Angelology Academy of Paris just before World War II, where Gabriella Levi-Franche (Evangeline’s grandmother) and Celestine (Trussoni likes single names) are students.

In this long section of the novel we get lots of exposition about how the Nephilim began and how their power grew. This is clearly a chief interest of the author, but many readers will bog down here. It’s a relief to get back to 1999 and some action.

In Devil’s Throat Cavern in 1943, Celestine finds a lyre made by angels that is a key to the war against the Nephilim. Later it is sent to America, where Abigail Rockefeller hides it. The climax of the book involves the search for that lyre before the Nephilim get their hands on it.

Trussoni has created an interesting world and tells her story well enough, but it has some problems besides the pacing issue already mentioned. While she likes to flaunt scholarship (mostly fictional) about angels, she includes some simplistic generalizations about the church and Christian history. And the writing occasionally suffers (“her face brimming with intelligence”).

She also introduces ideas that some readers may mistakenly take seriously, such as angelmorphism, which “deals strictly with the idea that Jesus Christ was not even human but an angel.” This smacks of Dan Brown, with whom Trussoni may be compared. His books read faster, but hers is better written.

“Angelology” is an engaging novel with an interesting concept. However, its pacing may bother readers looking for a suspenseful thriller.

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