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Book Review: Peter’s Angel

Peter's Angel - Final FrontIt’s been over a year since Aubrey Hansen published her first novel. Now she’s back, just like Ah-nuld. And she’s stepping up her game.

Peter’s Angel is historical fiction with a twist. It takes place in the aftermath of a lost War for Independence, following young Lord Peter Jameson as he struggles to protect the small patriot state of Rhode Island from the greedy hands of New Britain.

This is alternate history at its most intriguing, and for the most part, Aubrey pulls it off beautifully. Against this backdrop, she sets in motion an invasion, a kidnapping, a rescue, and a love story. And that’s only the beginning.

W. Somerset Maugham once said that “only a mediocre writer is always at his best,” and I think it’s safe to say that Aubrey’s style have improved since her debut. Make no mistake: I think Red Rain is a great read. But I also think Peter’s Angel blows it right out of the water.

For one thing, it’s more ambitious. You could say the stakes have been raised. There’s a boldness to the characters, a thematic and dramatic depth to the story, which clearly marks Aubrey’s growth as a storyteller. There are a couple of places where the story drags, but the plotting is generally tight, and the large cast is well-managed. The main characters – particularly Peter, Nathan, and Mark – are more complex than you might initially think. If book one is any indication, I’m willing to bet on some fascinating character development as the rest of the series runs its course.

That’s right, I said “series.” Peter’s Angel is the first book in a proposed trilogy. As such, I think it will be even stronger when considered alongside its sequels. There’s room for growth here, because the story isn’t over. Aubrey has started something big, and I’m eager to see where she goes with it.

There were some things about the writing which bugged me – nothing major, just little quirks that stood out to me. For instance, I didn’t care for the repeated use of “what if” paragraphs (silly name, I know, but I’m not sure what else to call them). Example:

Were the soldiers prepared for battle? What if the British outnumbered them? What if Peter didn’t get the message to pull back? What if the they wouldn’t accept Stephen’s plea for a ceasefire?

That kind of internal monologuing is fine in moderation, but it appears more frequently in the story than I would’ve liked.

Thankfully, the good far outweighs the bad here. Peter’s Angel gets an enthusiastic recommendation from me. It’s a promising start to a potentially epic series, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for part two.

On the Bookshelf XIII

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Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Forget The Princess Diaries – here we have The Philosopher-King Diaries. I wonder why Disney hasn’t made a movie of this one yet? All kidding aside, Meditations really is a fascinating read, elegantly written and insightful. From a Christian perspective, it’s also remarkably empty: an elaborate house of morality and philosophy built on a sinking sandbank of pure humanism.
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
I picked this up at the library the other day, mainly because I was in the mood for something noirish and this seemed to fit the bill. As I’ve already seen Scorsese’s film adaption, the story itself probably won’t have many surprises for me, but Lehane’s writing is so good I really could care less. Consider: “His small dark eyes sat far back in their sockets, and the shadows that leaked from them bled across the rest of his face.” That’s just brilliant.
Confessions by Augustine
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” If I had to pick one book to call the Most Beautiful Book I’ve Ever Read, this would be it. If you haven’t read it, you can’t imagine what you’re missing. Go buy a copy. Better yet, buy ten copies – one for yourself and nine to give away . Just one thing: don’t settle for any of those “modern English” translations, where the beauty of Augustine’s writing is dramatically lessened. “Updating” Augustine is like “updating” Shakespeare – not cool.
The Travels by Marco Polo
I just finished this, and my one word review would probably look something like this: Meh. The subject matter is (mostly) fascinating, but Polo’s writing isn’t half as colorful as the locales he’s describing. Here’s a warning to potential readers: whenever Polo says something like “What need have I to say more?”, don’t be fooled. He will inevitably say more anyway.
How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer
Marvin Olasky offers an excellent summary of what this book has to offer: “How Should We Then Live? was produced by a genius who cared about the battle of ideas. It’s also the book I still recommend to students for a quick overview of ‘the rise and decline of western thought and culture.’ Schaeffer brilliantly takes readers from ancient times through the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment, then discusses the breakdown in philosophy and science and moves on to art, music, literature, film, and much else besides.”
Peter’s Angel by Aubrey Hansen
Almost a third of the way through this one and finding it quite enjoyable. I have a few quibbles, but these are fairly minor, and I think it’s safe to say that Aubrey has surpassed her debut effort (Red Rain) by leaps and bounds – the writing is better, the characters are deeper, and the alternate history is well done. Look for a more detailed review next week.

What’s on your bookshelf right now?