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Angels on Fire
Nancy A. Collins
White Wolf, 234 pages

Art: Thom Ang
Angels on Fire
Nancy A. Collins
Nancy A. Collins is the author of Walking Wolf, Wild Blood, and Tempter, plus the series Suglasses After Dark, In The Blood, and Paint it Black, featuring punk vampire Sonja Blue. Her short fiction has appeared in such anthologies as The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, Best New Horror and The Definitive Best of the Horror Show. Collins has edited several horror anthologies, and is the founder of the International Horror Guild.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Nancy A. Collins is known for her vampire and werewolf fiction, and particularly for her popular series featuring punk vampire anti-heroine Sonja Blue. In Angels on Fire, she turns her hand to more celestial subjects.

Lucy Bender's life is a mess. Her boyfriend has left her for a woman with a trust fund, and the artists' collective she's a part of has voted her out. On the way up to the roof of her ratty apartment building to contemplate whether to throw herself off, she stumbles over... an angel. Not an alien, or a man with wings tied to his back, but a real heavenly being, guileless and genderless, with an encyclopedic knowledge of Creation but not a clue about human society.

Lucy's first thought is to make a fortune by taking the angel, Joth, to the tabloids. But she quickly discovers that Joth appears differently to everyone who sees it -- and that no one sees it as an angel. Or almost no one. In her bid for tabloid fame, Lucy unwittingly draws the attention of someone -- or something -- who not only recognizes what Joth is, but means it harm.

There's more at stake, it turns out, than just a single fallen angel. A cosmic battle is being fought between the forces of Creation and Entropy, between the divine and the demonic -- and Joth, earthbound, is now a pawn. Through encounters with various avatars of heaven and hell, Lucy discovers that Joth hovers on the cusp of three different fates: to be cleansed of mortal corruption and taken back into the realms of Creation, to become fully corrupt and fall into the pits of Entropy, or to choose of its own free will to abandon both heaven and hell and become human. This last is what Lucy, who has become very attached to Joth, wants it to do. There's just one problem: Joth -- a very low-level angel, a kind of drone in its own environment -- has no free will, and is incapable of independent choice.

Angels on Fire is billed as "a romantic dark fantasy" -- something of a misnomer, for Joth, the romantic object, is genderless, and the main demon, despite his ulterior motives, is oddly likable. There are some creepy moments, and some violence, but mainly Angels on Fire is a warm and engaging tale of human relationships, touching on the paranormal but firmly rooted in the real world. The characters are fully-rounded and sympathetic -- even Joth, whose essential alienness Collins skillfully evokes while still making it believable that a human woman would come to care for such a being. I also found Collins' cosmology interesting, with a heaven and hell that are nothing like the Christian ones and emissaries that in human terms are equally terrifying, no matter which side of the balance they represent. If the story's central moral issue -- how a creature without free will can acquire enough of it to make a true choice -- is dodged a bit in the climactic moments, it still adds up to a satisfying ending.

Technically, the narrative isn't always as successful as its characters and ideas. Flashbacks are awkwardly inserted into the text. Some of the coincidences that drive the action seem a little forced. Big chunks of expository conversation slow the middle section -- necessary to acquaint the reader with the principles of Collins's cosmology, but not very believable as dialogue. And, stickler that I am, I was bothered by the misapplication and misuse of various theological terms. However, the drive of the story, with its humour and warmth, is strong enough to carry the reader through these pitfalls. Overall, Angels on Fire is an excellent read, and should not only delight Collins's existing fans, but win her many new ones.

Copyright © 1998 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.

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