Angels of Destruction by Keith Donohue

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Angels of Destruction by Keith Donohue

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Price
Reviewed by Ruth Price
Summary: This is an intriguing novel which straddles the boundaries between the real and imagined. While not entirely successful, elegant writing makes this part-character study, part-fairy tale for adults a rewarding read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
ISBN: 978-0224086134

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In an opening chapter reminiscent of Cathy's ghostly appearance at the window in Wuthering Heights, widowed Margaret Quinn opens her front door in the middle of a wintry night to a half-frozen, waif-like child, Norah, who appears to have arrived out of nowhere. Lonely and withdrawn in the wake of her daughter Erica's disappearance many years earlier, Margaret takes in apparently-orphaned Norah, passing her off as her granddaughter. But Norah is no ordinary child…

There is a lot to like in this intriguing novel, especially its characterisation. In particular, charismatic Norah is strikingly drawn and is scarily convincing. She also drives much of the drama, as the reader is left uncertain at times if Norah's power over people is benign or malevolent. This makes for compelling reading, but it did leave me somewhat confused about where this novel was going. I initially thought that it was a gothic horror, but instead it is a study of several characters who are mainly outsiders in some way. However, there is a fantasy element - Norah is able to perform tiny miracles and Erica is temporarily trapped in a dream-like forest shack with an old grandmother and a mysterious child, as in a Grimm fairy tale.

Apart from Norah's story, we are introduced to Erica as a difficult teen, and follow her when she elopes with her lover Wiley. Wiley is another outsider, who wants to join a '60s-style revolutionary movement called Angels of Destruction. They fund their journey to join the group by theft, but in the wake of a bungled burglary and subsequent shooting, Erica's commitment to Wiley wavers. Erica is convinced she cannot return home, thinking that she'll be imprisoned for murder. Erica and Margaret's stories unfold separately through the early chapters, but Norah is the catalyst that begins to bring the pair back together.

Norah also brings into her thrall her school-friend Sean. Her influence proves to be long-lasting, and his search for her as an adult culminates in the novel's ambiguous ending.

I liked Angels of Destruction a lot, but, frustratingly, the character of Norah is so compelling that to some extent, sections of the novel dragged as I was longing to read more about her. I was disappointed with her disappearance near the end, and was rather confused by the menacing presence of Norah's shadowy stalker, who got written out at one point without adding much to the story that I could understand.

As mentioned above, after the first chapter, I was expecting a horror story – it's not like that, and if you are seeking a scary-phantom-evil-child type tale, Angels isn't it. However, it can be fun to get the unexpected, and while it's difficult to categorise, Angels does offer a rewarding and surprising read. Don't expect all the questions it raises to be answered, however.

Thanks to the nice publishers, Jonathan Cape, for sending a copy of Angels of Destruction to Bookbag.

For further reading, Bookbag's reviewer greatly liked The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett. While it's marketed at teens, it will also appeal to adults who want a sensitive tale incorporating fables and fairies, which addresses love and loss within families. Another novel which mixes up the genres with a heavy dose of the fantastic is No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong - a murder mystery where the detectives are vampires, werewolves and necromancers. YA readers might enjoy Pet by Akwaeke Emezi.

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