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Principals of Angels
Jaine Fenn
Gollancz, 293 pages

Principals of Angels
Jaine Fenn
Jaine Fenn studied Linguistics and Astronomy at university. She has had a number of short stories published and Principals of Angels is her first novel. She has completed a second set in the same universe. She lives with her husband in Hampshire.

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A review by Nathan Brazil

'"When an Angel knows she's gonna die she often passes her gun on to someone she admires," he said.'
Principals of Angels is a début novel length work, and also the first in a projected series, provisionally titled Hidden Empire. The action takes place in Khesh City, an enormous disc-like construct, which orbits above the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. There, Angels are state-sponsored assassins, who bump off failed politicians according to public vote. As the name implies, the Angels have the ability to fly via anti-gravity technology, and fight using built-in weapons, in an almost peerless fashion. An Angel named Nual, who has never failed in her duties, is tasked to eliminate Consul Salik Vidoran, another duff politician. But at the critical moment, Taro, a homeless dweller from the Undertow, the squalid underbelly of Khesh, accidentally prevents the assassination. Taro, who has fallen from glory, has also been co-opted by the governors of Khesh City to spy on Angel Nual. As a side issue, Taro has a personal argument with the bodyguards belonging to Consul Vidoran. Running parallel with this thread, is the story of Elarn, who used to be a friend of Angel Nual on their home world, who is being forced by the shadowy Sidhe race to come to Khesh City with the aim of killing Nual.

Jaine Fenn has clearly put a lot of time and creative effort into imagineering her world, and populating it with well presented characters. The plot shifts along nippily enough, and included many elements that I found intriguing; the mysterious and highly suspect Minister, who chooses Angels, the public deciding which politician will pay the ultimate price, the notion that Khesh was partly built by the Sidhe, a vanished super-race who once controlled humanity. Then there was Taro, whose mother Angel was killed by an assassin, in a world where no one takes such liberties. In order to survive, the character is plunged headlong into a seedy lifestyle, and soon finds himself at the centre of a murderous conspiracy. At turns I was reminded of the work of E.E. 'Doc' Smith, that great pioneer of space opera, Logan's Run by William F. Nolan, and the softer, more fantasy oriented characterisation of Tanith Lee. The downside of "Downside" and the elite "Topside" parts of Kesh are that the concept is hardly original, angel assassins are not a million miles away from the Sandmen of Logan's Run, and detailed exposition for the quite twisty plot was in short supply. Those faults identified, I enjoyed Fenn's writing style, and the pregnant revelation concerning Angel Nual's true identity. This is a series which has the potential to go places.

In summary, Principals of Angels came across as a relatively safe début. At the time of writing, Fenn is being somewhat hyped, and I hope this does not backfire, as the difference between what's promised and what's actually delivered is not vast. Fenn does not appear to want to take many chances, not yet, but she tells a good tale and shows plenty of promise for future installments.

Copyright © 2009 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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