This Angel Has the Right Connection

By J. Stephen Bolhafner
Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Thursday, June 26, 1997

Jovah's Angel
A science fiction novel by Sharon Shinn

I don't usually read sequels when I haven't read the original. When I try, I'm often lost by page 10. The back cover of "Jovah's Angel" says Sharon Shinn is "a journalist who lives in St. Louis," though, and I like to give local authors a chance. By the time I was halfway through, I knew I'd have to buy the previous book, "Archangel," not because I was confused, but because I was enthralled. This is a delightful book, and the world Shinn has created is an intriguing one.

The main character, Alleya (short for Alleluia), is an angel, a winged human whose primary function in the society is to sing prayers to Jovah. When devastating rains threaten to flood the land, for instance, angels fly above the clouds and sing special prayers to stop the rain. Jovah hears them, and the rains stop. That's what's supposed to happen, anyway.

At the opening of the story, Alleya is made Archangel - the top angelic post - because the previous Archangel has had a crippling accident. The "interface" the oracles use to commune with Jovah seems suspiciously like a computer terminal to a reader living on the cusp of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Alleya seems a ridiculous choice from one point of view: she lacks the diplomatic training and aristocratic charm that her predecessor, Delilah, possessed. But on the other hand, she seems an obvious choice: in a time when, more and more, Jovah seems to ignore the angels' pleas, he always listens to her.

Shinn is by no means the first writer to create a future that has shunned technology yet is dependent on perceived magic that is really ancient technology.

She has done a better job than most, however, at creating a believable society around such a theme and characters worth following through such a landscape. To her credit, she does not sidestep the theological implications of her fictional construct, nor does she provide easy answers.