Book Review: Angel Mage By Garth Nix

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More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.
A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.
Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.
But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.
The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfill her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else. . .

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I remember owning a couple of books from this author’s Abhorsen series years ago but I never read them. Even this book wasn’t on my radar, but when I happened to read the synopsis around the time of its release, I thought it was a bit different from my usual reads and wanted to give it a try. I can’t say I was blown away by it, but it turned out to be a good read.

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I liked the idea of this world, each kingdom having its own archangel with their own host of lesser angels, and the mages of the kingdom being able to summon them using icons. I particularly loved the way the icons are described in detail and it would be very interesting to see some artwork related to it. But we are never given any details of the world itself, beyond the basics. It’s almost not until the end that the Doom of Ystara is revealed, and while it made for a nice mystery, I just wasn’t sure the revelation was worth the wait. There are also too many names of people we care nothing about, a hierarchy of the angels which I couldn’t remember at all, and so many different angels who could be summoned that I stopped who was capable of what magic. The only part of the world that I could remember atleast a little was the top most power players in the kingdom of Sarance and their archangel.

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The best part of the book was that it was fast paced right from the get go, with the readers being thrown in the middle of the action in the prologue itself. As there are too many characters introduced to us in the beginning, it took a while for me to realize who the important ones are and then try to remember them. This book is told through third person (I think) and had a level of detachment in the narrative style which prevented me from getting to know any character closely. I found the dialogue also to be a bit repetitive and annoying at times. There are only a few action sequences but I thought they were described very well. But on the whole, I was very interested to know what the end goal was and how it would be achieved, and that’s what sustained me to keep going. I’m also a bit conflicted about the ending – it felt underwhelming but also appropriate, so I don’t know what to say about it.

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Whenever there is an ensemble cast, I’m always excited to get to know them all but unfortunately, that didn’t happen here. Lilliath is probably the only one we spend a significant amount of time with, and she was very much a mystery throughout. All I could understand was that despite her promises to her followers, she really seemed very selfish and had her own motives, without any care to protect those around her. Among the other four main characters, the only one I really got to know a bit was Dorotea. She is a scholar and has powers that no one understands but I loved how confident she was in herself, and just wanted the opportunity to continue her education. Her quest for knowledge and her belief that books are the biggest treasure really endeared me to her. Henri, Simeon, Agnez and Dorotea’s instant connection and friendship was also lovely to read about, but it would have been nice to know a bit more about them individually.

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To conclude, I think this was a book that had a lot more potential but not all of it worked on page. If you have read the author’s previous books and enjoyed them, then the writing style might work for you. If you like books which focus more on the plot but not a lot on characterization, then this might be the right book for you. It has an interesting world and magic system, but there was just something missing. And I also feel it could have been better fleshed out if it was a duology rather than trying to compress it all into a standalone book.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Angel Mage By Garth Nix

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  1. It’s always tricky when a book doesn’t live up to its potential the way you want. It’s one of my bugs when you get slammed with too many names about people/places you don’t care for as well, really throws you off. Great review!

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