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The Alleluia Files
Sharon Shinn
Ace Books, 474 pages

The Alleluia Files
Sharon Shinn
Sharon Shinn is the author of three previous novels: The Shapechanger's Wife, Archangel and Jovah's Angel. She is a 1996 John W. Campbell Award nominee, and winner of the 1996 IAFA Fantasy Award.

Sharon Shinn Website
ISFDB Bibliography
An Interview with Sharon Shinn

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

When I read Archangel, the first book in Sharon Shinn's Samaria series, I found it an enjoyable but peculiar novel. Enjoyable because it was an engaging love story, with well-drawn characters and interesting backgrounds; peculiar because it seemed more like the middle of a trilogy than the start of a series. After all, how many books do you run into where the central science fiction premise is explained in the back cover blurb, but never referenced in the novel itself, which reads like straight fantasy?

The premise, briefly, involves the settlement of a planet by a group of space travelers whose own planet has been destroyed by the over-use of technology. The society they create, technologically backward to avoid the fate of the original world, is governed by genetically-engineered angels, who also serve as intermediaries between the human population and the orbiting space cruiser Jehovah, which guards the planet. Voice-activated, Jehovah can change the weather or dispense medication or scatter seed -- or, if peace is not maintained, unleash its arsenal of weapons and destroy the world. Over time, however, much of this knowledge is lost. Jehovah becomes Jovah, a divine being, and the songs the angels sing to activate the ship's computers become magical prayers offered to a responsive god.

As I mentioned, Archangel never deals with this premise at all. The action takes place in the world that has come to be as a result of the lost knowledge, a world in which Jovah is known only as a god. If you don't read the back cover copy, the book is a love story set in an unusual fantasy world whose peculiar social setup is presented without explanation; if you do, the story acquires a subtext. That subtext is the focus of the second book in the series, Jovah's Angel, in which the truth about Jovah/Jehovah is discovered by the angel Alleluia, who chooses to hide her understanding because she believes her world is not yet ready for it; and of The Alleluia Files, third in the series, which deals with the struggle, a century later, to find Alleluia's hidden testament.

The characters of The Alleluia Files include a group of Jacobites (a cult that has deduced the truth about Jovah/Jehovah and is devoted to rediscovering Alleluia's testament), the Archangel Bael (who has himself found the truth, and is exterminating the Jacobites in order to make sure no one else does), the angel Jared (who is searching for the Alleluia Files also, for reasons of his own), and a pair of twins, one angel and one mortal, who play a crucial role in the finding of the Files, and in revealing to the world the truth they hold.

Like its predecessors, The Alleluia Files is competently written and paced, with attractive central characters and an appealing romance element. Overall, however, the book suffers from sequelitis. There's a flatness to the story, a feeling of places too often revisited and ground trod too many times. Unlike many fantasy authors, Shinn has allowed change to come to her fantasy world, in the form of technological development, but the interface between the new technologies and the semi-Biblical world of Samaria is unconvincing. Even the plot is, in a sense, a rehash: if you've read Jovah's Angel you know right from the start what the denouement of The Alleluia Files will be, and if you haven't, you still get a pretty good idea, because the characters tell each other over and over through the course of the novel (a disadvantage of this kind of multiple-POV story, since each character has to learn afresh what the others already know.)

Ultimately, the book's resolution seems thin. You've known since the first novel what the characters must find out; the sequels add neither change nor depth to that understanding, so that in the end the discovery of the truth seems repetitive rather than revelatory. And it doesn't go deep enough. It certainly might be possible to explain why a group of space-faring colonizers would create a system as bizarre and impractical as the one Shinn presents (genetically-engineered winged humans flying aloft to sing aria-instructions to an orbiting voice-activated spaceship? Wasn't there an easier way?), never mind give it such strong Judeo-Christian overtones -- but Shinn never does so. Without that underpinning, the climax of The Alleluia Files, like the book itself, falls flat.

Copyright © 1998 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. For an excerpt of her Avon EOS novel, The Arm of the Stone, visit her Web site.

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