Posted on July 6, 2009 by Monica Valentinelli
In young adult fiction, you’ve probably noticed a lot of urban fantasy and paranormal books hitting the market. Strange Angels, written by veteran author Lili St. Crow (You might recognize Lilith Saint Crow’s work from the Dante Valentine and The Night Shift series), is a dark exploration of what happens when a teenager named Dru finds herself lost, alone and in a fight for her survival.
Strange Angels is clearly, in my opinion, a novel that is right on target in its depiction of teenagers. The characters are not fully grown, beautiful and confident; they are awkward, tumbling and self-conscious. Dru is not the prettiest, or the most popular, or even the most sought-after girl in this small town. She’s a transplant who meandered around the country with her father hunting beings from the Real World, which is a world hidden beneath the surface of our own that houses all manner of creatures.
As the first book in the series, Strange Angels has a strong focus on characterization that is spurred on by tragedy. Early in the book, Dru experiences an unfathomable loss which shapes her character by affecting how she grows and interacts with the people in the world around her. The grief she experiences seems both fairly realistic and necessary for the story, because it allows St. Crow to offer a layer of storytelling that delves into Dru’s character background to explain her solitary way of handling things.
There isn’t a large “adult” presence in this book, so the primary focus is on Dru and Graves, who seems to have a bit more common sense than Dru does. Tall, skinny and awkward, Graves is the voice of reason in a world he can’t even begin to comprehend. When he does get thrown into that world — to see what others typically don’t see in a place Dru referred to as the “Real World” — he stumbles, falls and then steps out of it before he’s wrenched back in.
In my mind, these minute details aggregate into a cohesive, almost “believable” story. Here the characters take you by the hand and tell you what happened from a matter-of-fact teenage perspective, instead of asking you to put on rose-colored glasses. The sheer lack of youth’s romanticism is by far one of the best things about this book, because it provided me (as the reader) with the ability to feel more emotional contrast and identify with the characters. Dru’s sardonic nature is a strong complement to her life’s experiences, yet she often tries to “protect” Graves from emotional harm. On the other hand, the mysterious figure named Christophe is a bit more straight-forward, primarily because he spends much of the book off-screen. I felt this was one of the reasons why trust issues became central to the plot for Dru, Graves and Christophe later on in the book.
Because so much of the book is about a singular life-or-death situation, if I revealed any more about the plot I might spoil it for you. Instead, I will say that I had no problems with the pacing in part, because there are two primary mysteries that were handled separately yet almost simultaneously. First, the main character wasn’t the one to discover the “real world” — it was the secondary character Graves who experienced glimpses of it before he was thrown face-first back into it. Secondly, the mystery as to why someone would want to kill Dru ties directly into her character’s (and her family’s) past. If there weren’t any overlapping story arcs, the book would have lost my interest because it would have been too straightforward.
The paranormal powers in this first book is more peripheral, which made sense to me given the characters and what they were going through. Much of what I experienced was related to the choices Dru had to make when Graves was bitten by a wulf, which turned him into something else. Several mysteries are resolved as the book goes on, and there is a little bit of “tell” to bring you up to speed near the end. Although Strange Angels doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, I have to wonder if the story structure might change as the series goes on since there was a healthy amount of character growth in the first book.
As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t a large “adult” presence in this book even with the presence of the bully teacher (Bletchley). These kids are still teenagers, but I still had to wonder — does anyone care? Does a runaway and a transient student matter to these educators? To me, that was really the only detail that stood out oddly in my mind, but it may not to another reader in part because I’m not a teenager. The prose was exceptionally streamlined and clear and the book wasn’t exceptionally gore-heavy, which turns Strange Angels into a very, readable book for a broad audience — both teenagers and adults alike.
Like many supernaturally-themed YA books, you might expect that at some point Dru may develop powers of a sort. In Strange Angels, even though there are seeds that hint at what Dru might be (or what powers she might have), the magic doesn’t overcome the story because there is a “cost” to dealing with the Real World that may or may not be present in similar stories. In St. Crow’s universe, you don’t just walk past a sucker or a wulf and get away scot-free. You’ll lose something, but deep down inside you might find a piece of yourself that you didn’t know you had to beat back the things that lurk in the night.
For more about the author, visit the official website of Lili St. Crow.
Review by Monica Valentinelli