Review - Principles of Angels,
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This review is from: Principles of Angels (Paperback)
Principles of Angels combines a convoluted plot, with unexpected twists, multi-dimensional characters,and a complex, and unique, setting. Vellern is a rock terra-formed and divided into three cities after the planet below was made uninhabitable by its inhabitants. Topside, there are rules: the Compact, agreed by the politicians in the three cities. Angles enforce the Compact by killing those the Minister orders killed; primarily politicians. The Undertow is a maze of streets and dwellings carved out of spill over from Topside. Power rules in the Undertow. Fenn very cleverly introduces the setting using two perspectives: first, Taro, an inhabitant of the planet, and, in Chapter Two, Ellarn Rean, an outsider.
Taro's aunt, an Angel, has been killed. As a result, Taro no longer has a place topside and has fled to the Undertow. Taro blames himself for his aunt's death. While his aunt adopted him after the death of his Angel mother, her care seems to have been rather grudging. When he was fourteen, she told him to get a trade. He became a prostitute. One of his tricks followed him home and killed Malia. Taro swears to avenge her death.
No longer under the protection of being part of an Angel lineage, Taro hides in the Undertow. To survive, Taro regretfully decides to join the troop of prostitutes controlled by a powerful Underside gang leader, a good example of the brutality and sadism of the Undertow.
Chapter Two opens with Elarn Rean on her way to Vellern. She is a famous singer from a theocratic planet dominated by a religion resembling Christianity. She's become a non-believer, abandoning the religion of her home planet. Despite this, she continues her musical speciality, singing religious songs. She is coming to Vellern to present a series of concerts. She views Vellern and its three cities contemptuously, as a tourist destination, where anything, sex, drugs, is available. She comes because she has no choice. She has been ordered to go to Vellern by the mysterious Sidhe, an alien species that most humans think is extinct.
Taro and Elarn are both pawns, manipulated by those in power. Their lives are ruined as a matter of business - nothing personal, just business, a way of controlling Nual, an Angel, a remote, reclusive and beautiful Angel; the most successful killer in the Angel group. As the novel proceeds, we see that Taro is actually far less damaged than Elam - decent, kind although never treated kindly himself, more intelligent and competent than he appears. Elain, while damaged, is stronger and more decent than those manipulating her suspect. The three major characters are masked and as they slowly abandon their masks they penetrate the masks of Vellern itself.
There is a succession of other characters, sadistic and kind, Topside and Underside, that add to the plot's twists and turns. A few are as they seem; most are not.
This is one of the best SF novels I've read in years. Fenn has created a fictional world that shapes its characters, with a plot stemming out of character and setting. .