Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1) - Susan Ee

What can I say about Susan Ee's Angelfall that hasn't already been said? Not much, but I'll throw my two cents in anyway.

Angelfall is one of the best YA PNRs I've read in the last year, and it ranks number one among my favorite YA angel books. The novel takes place two months after angels have attacked the earth bringing forth the apocalypse. Penryn is a seventeen year old girl who is fighting to keep herself, her wheelchair bound sister, Paige, and her schizophrenic mother alive under the threat of angels and human gangs that now rule the streets. When Paige is kidnapped by angels, Penryn allies herself with an angel named Raffe, whose wings have been cut off by the same angels who took her sister, in order to find her.

Typically, my number one complaint about YA PNRs is the romance. First, that it takes over the plot, and second, that it's unbelievable and unhealthy. Neither of these things was an issue in Angelfall because the romance was not all consuming or instant. Penryn's first priority is her sister and she never forgets that. She isn't willing to sacrifice her family or the lives of other humans for Raffe. Raffe, too, has a motivation for helping Penryn outside of his feelings for her. He never loses sight of his goal to have his wings restored. Although their attraction to each other begins early in the novel, their true deeper feelings develop slowly and realistically over time.

I really enjoyed the main characters in this novel as well. Penryn is intelligent, loyal, and has a great sense of humor. She isn't afraid to make tough, morally questionable decisions in order to survive and save her sister. Unlike many other YA heroines, she doesn't wait for her love interest to save her. She is well versed in fighting techniques, and she knows how to kickass. She even saves Raffe's life on occasion. On top of all this, I found her relatable, and her voice entertaining

Raffe made for a great swoon-worthy love interest. He's a badass, despite some occasional cheesy dialogue, and he doesn't get all moony over Penryn. No sparkling, no corny declarations of love, no toying with the heroine. Raffe does not play the game of "I want you, but being together will kill you, but wait, I can't stay away" game that so many YA heros play. He's clear with Penryn that they cannot be together, and although he does sometimes cross the line, it comes across as a true internal struggle rather than some manipulative tactic to further lure the heroine into his trap. My only complaint about Raffe is that he's lived multiple millennia but he often sounds like a teenage boy. Although he has spent a considerable amount of time on earth, there is no indication that he spent this time around teenagers, and therefore I would expect that he would sound like an adult.

Angelfall also does a good job handling disappearing parent syndrome, a highly criticized trope in YA fiction. While Penryn's parents are definitely negligent, they both have good reasons. My main complaint about absent parents in YA literature is that the absence is nonsensical. Neither the plot nor the characterization explains why the parents are neglectful. In Angelfall this is not an issue.

It almost feels greedy to expect a book to have likable characters with a romance I can get on board with and an entertaining plot, but Ee manages to deliver both. Although this is a romance, Angelfall is first and for most an adventure story and about survival. The plot is generally well-paced and fast moving with very few dull parts. The mythology is well researched, which is particularly important in a book about angels. Ee demonstrates very clearly that she has read and understood the Bible, or at least the parts involving angels.

With that said, this novel is not without its flaws. The apocalypse is never fully described, and I had trouble believing it had only been two months since the angels attacked. Despite the problems with world building, I probably would have given the novel five stars if not for the characterization issues. One of the my main problems was that I didn't get a clear sense of Penryn's life and personality/identity before the apocalypse. Most of her backstory involved her struggles with having a schizophrenic mother so I was thrown off when at one point she thinks, "My biggest concern in life should be what dress to wear to the prom." Based on what we're told, Penryn's biggest concern would never have been choosing a prom dress even had the apocalypse never happened. Further, I find it irritating that choosing a prom dress would be more important than choosing a college, or planning for the future after graduation.

My other chief complaint was that some of the secondary characters were a little two dimensional. Paige in particular is too good to be true. She's a seven year old saint who is a vegetarian and cares for other special needs children. I wanted to feel more of a connection to her but it was hard because she didn't come across as a real person. Additionally, this novel suffers from an overabundance of bitchy blonde girls, who all throw themselves at Raffe, and act like jealous shrews around Penryn. The only female character I liked besides Penryn was her schizophrenic mother.

Lastly, I've noticed an epidemic of heroines in YA PNRs being dressed in sexy clothes by others, and Angelfall is no exception. In fact, it's happened in the last three YA PNRs I've read: Angelfall, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Nevermore. In all three the girls react in the same way. They complain about the skimpiness of the dress, but bravely put it on anyway, giving their love interests the opportunity to ogle them. It seems like a ploy to create sexual tension while still preserving the heroine's "virtue." Just once I wish a YA heroine would own her sexuality instead of having her friend or love interest dictate it for her. [Note: I do think Angelfall does a better job handling the situation than some of the others because Penryn has good reasons for not wanting to wear something skimpy outside of modesty and comes across as less judgmental about wearing them, and because the reason for wearing the dress is built in to the plot, but it still irks me.]

Despite the flaws, I really enjoyed this novel. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy YA PNR and are not afraid of a little gore.