Sunday, August 25, 2019

Penryn & the End of Days trilogy by Susan Ee

4/5 stars on Goodreads

I mentioned in the previous post that I’ve read Angelfall by Susan Ee, the first book in the Penryn and The End of Days trilogy of post-apocalyptic San Francisco destroyed by the arrival of angels bent on annihilating the humanity. I’ve since read the other two, World After and End of Days, and I thought to review all three in one post.

The structure of the trilogy, which is very compact, makes this a natural approach. The next book begins with the same scene than the previous ended, with the same energy too. Since I read them back to back, it suited me perfectly, but if I’d had to wait for the next book to be published—I think they came out a couple of years apart—I wouldn’t have remembered where the previous book ended, and would’ve needed more to catch up. All in all, no more than two weeks passes in the books in total, if that.

Angelfall by Susan Ee

We follow Penryn, a seventeen-year-old girl determined to save her family, mother and sister, from the angels and humans equally bent on survival. Paige, Penryn’s seven-year-old paralysed sister, is first taken away by angels, and then, in the second, driven away by humans afraid of her. This forces Penryn to go after her to save her. In a way Paige is the catalyst of two of the books. In the third, Penryn takes a more active role in forming the outcome of the story and forcing the final battle between humans and angels.

The tight timeframe means that Penryn’s development from a scared teenager looking after her little sister and schizophrenic mother to sword-wielding angler killer is rapid. Perhaps unnaturally so. The last book mentions that all humans have diluted angel blood in them, some more than others, but the author doesn’t make it clear if Penryn had more than her share of it. Whatever the reason for her strength and skills, there isn’t a man or angel big and strong enough she couldn’t beat in a fight. She never even hurts herself, which in a book that revels in gory details of people’s injuries, is remarkable.

World After by Susan Ee

The series point of view is strictly Penryn’s. There are major things going on constantly in the background that she only learns about after the fact. It suits the atmosphere of post-apocalyptic isolation well. There is no way to communicate with people, so she can’t possibly know what the others are doing. And it’s a change to similar books, where meaningful events take place only when the hero is present. Sometimes Penryn is in the thick of the action, sometimes she’s in the side-lines.

However, this means that the development of other characters is non-existent, and most of them remain sketches. That goes for the characters that are closest to Penryn too, like her sister and mother, and Raffe, the wounded angel she rescues in the first book. They each have interesting roles to play in the story, and it would’ve been nice to have some flesh around their bones. Now her mother mainly remains a crazy lady everyone’s afraid of, who does crazy things and somehow not only survives but helps to defeat the angels. We don’t even learn her name. Paige, the little sister, is horribly altered by angels; has to endure constant pain and violence, and deal with the violent urges of her own, yet she’s looked at only from the outside. That’s mostly because neither of them gets their own voice. They seldom speak and if they do, they don’t tell anything about themselves.

End of Days by Susan Ee

Raffe, the inevitable love-interest, suffers from this too. We do get some glimpses to his inner life, but only second-hand through a sentient sword. He never talks about himself or his life. Yet, we’re meant to believe that a relationship between him and Penryn is possible. That was perhaps the weakest link in the trilogy. I was happy with the first book where the possibility was only toyed with. Even in the second book there wasn’t much else than a teenage girl’s crush on a handsome guy. The last book went all out though, and it wasn’t always in service of the greater story. The action would stall while Penryn fantasises about Raffe. Still, nothing much happens between them except a few hot kisses, and I would’ve been perfectly fine with an ending where the two go their separate ways. But, this being young adult fantasy, that ending couldn’t happen.

All in all, the trilogy is sufficient as is, and not well-developed enough. There would’ve been room for so much more. The angelic system is never properly explained. While they’re clearly from Christian mythology, they sort of spring from nowhere or from a different dimension. Where were all the woman angels? Only one is mentioned in the whole trilogy. And what about Penryn’s mother: did she really see demons and was guided by them? It was alluded to, but in the end her notions were brushed away as her mental illness. But the ending was satisfying enough, and in a way that didn’t solve all the humanity’s problems at once. The kind of ending that leaves room for the reader’s imagination too.

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