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Angels of Vengeance
John Birmingham
Del Ray, 530 pages

Angels of Vengeance
John Birmingham
John Birmingham was born in 1964 in Liverpool UK and migrated to Australia with his parents in 1970. He grew up in Ipswich, Queensland. He attended the St Edmunds Christian Brother's College in Ipswich, and the University of Queensland in Brisbane. His only stint of full time employment was as a researcher at the Defence Department. After this he returned to Queensland to study law but he did not complete his legal studies, choosing instead to pursue a career as a writer. He currently lives in Brisbane.

John Birmingham Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: After America
SF Site Review: Without Warning
SF Site Review: Axis of Time Trilogy
SF Site Review: Axis of Time Trilogy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'Three hundred million people turned to jelly by the Wave, and Rupert Murdoch wasn't one of them. There is no God.'
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Angels of Vengeance is what the publishers tout as the thrilling conclusion to the trilogy that started in Without Warning and After America. The premise is that a wave of entirely unknown energy descended upon North America, wiping out much of the population -- in fact turning them into piles of gloop -- but leaving structures intact. Unattended, nuclear power plants ran amok and cities burned. Until the mysterious wave lifted as suddenly and inexplicably as it had arrived, no human being could set foot inside the vast area it covered. As this novel commences, the US is struggling to drag itself up by the bootstraps, and is in danger of descending into civil war due to the rebellious inclinations of Texas Governor 'Mad Jack' Blackstone. The situation is not helped by the indecisiveness of the official President, James Kipper, whose administration is based in Seattle. Against this backdrop, a vicious construction magnate is bent on taking deadly revenge upon those who chose not to provide him with safe passage when all hell was breaking loose. This sub-plot ties in with lives of two women; Sofia Peiraro, a teenager seeking justice down the barrel of a gun for her murdered family, and Julianne 'Jules' Balwyn, a British aristocrat and former smuggler, now based in Darwin, Australia. A separate, eventually intertwining sub-plot, concerns Echelon agent Caitlin Monroe. The relentless assassin is now on the trail of the truth behind who allowed her nemesis, the arch terrorist Bilal Baumer, to escape detention and strike at New York. It's an enticing setup that has all the elements needed for a deliberately chaotic, and ultimately satisfying conclusion to this work. At least, that was my hope and expectation when I began reading.

When reviewing the middle work in this series, I said that based on the author's pedigree I had every confidence that the final book would not disappoint. Most of the interesting characters are still around, there appeared to be more than enough plot left over. One positive thing I can say about Angels of Vengeance is that John Birmingham demonstrates that he is still very capable of producing some wonderful lines. Mostly these are delivered by Master sergeant Fryderyk Milosz, whose Polish immigrant take on life in Post Wave America made me laugh out loud. The big problem here is that Milosz is a minor supporting character, yet the most interesting, most sympathetic figure in the whole book! Quite why the author seems to struggle so much with his end game is an enigma. At times, it seemed like he was going through the motions, writing only to fulfil his contract, and not really that interested anymore. Major threads left hanging from the previous books are dealt with, albeit in a lacklustre fashion, and there is a definitive conclusion, but that is about as good as it gets. The story also tends toward taking the dull or less than credible route. A glaring example of the latter being how grieving teen Sophia Peiraro wanders into Blackstone's Texas, and eventually to the heart of power, without once being spotted or challenged by 'Mad Jack's' forces. Almost everyone comes across as an actor in a not particularly convincing play; Caitlin Monroe is on autopilot, Jed Culver's misfortune is badly telegraphed, and President Kipper succeeds in being even more of a cardboard cut-out than in the previous novel. There never is any real attempt to explain the appalling death wave that wiped out so many millions of Americans, or any serious exploitation of the vast opportunities a fallen America would afford to other global players. Just the occasional teaser, casually tossed in to the mix like an afterthought. Most unforgivably, considering the global implications of a world in which the US is no longer a superpower, all of the action takes place either in Australia or the United States. If Birmingham had any idea or interest in what was happening elsewhere, he chooses to keep it to himself most of the time.

So much of this book is less than I'd hoped it would be, and less than its author is capable of producing at his best. There are obvious opportunities missed, and potentially fascinating avenues left unexplored. Which in a book this size is not nearly good enough. Why Birmingham's editor didn't do his job and coax the author into producing the book his fans had anticipated, is another mystery. I can, therefore, only recommend Angels of Vengeance to those who have read the first two novels in the series, and believe that a half-hearted ending is better than none at all.

Copyright © 2012 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 www.inkdigital.org.


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