Monday, July 18, 2011

Review of Michele Hauf’s Ashes of Angels

This is my first time reading a book by Michele Hauf, but it will not be the last! I just finished Ashes of Angels, the third book in her Of Angels and Demons series, and it was an engaging paranormal romance with hot vampires and sexy Fallen Angels. The book is being released tomorrow, July 19, and includes the novella that takes place between the second and third books, The Ninja Vampire’s Girl. In a letter from the author, Ms. Hauf states that the events in the novella take place about 5 months before those in the novel, and suggests that you read the novella first if you want to keep events in order, but that’s not necessary, as both novella and novel can be read as stand-alone works. In fact, I did read the novella first, and now I wish I’d read it last, because the novella was not nearly as good as the novel and I almost didn’t go on to read the novel. That would have been a shame, because the novel is tightly written with appealing characters, and I definitely recommend it!
Artist Cassandra (Caz) Stevens is celebrating finishing a statue of an angel when she meets a stunning looking man in a club. All too quickly she realizes that she’s in terrible danger, because he’s a Fallen Angel, and the glowing mark on her wrist indicates that she’s his muse. Fallen Angels who are summoned to Earth seek out mortal women, their muses, and sexually assault them, impregnating them with Nephilim, monstrous killers.  Caz’s grandmother warned her and her sister Coco years ago that they needed to prepare to fight off the Fallen, but Samandiriel (Sam) is different from the others. He regrets the Fallen Angels’ decision to leave Heaven and wants to protect Caz from the others who will seek her out. It seems that a group of Vampires in Germany is summoning the Fallen Angels to Earth, hoping to lead them to their muses and perform tests on the resulting Nephilim. The vampires’ leader believes that the Nephilim blood will allow the vampires to walk in the sun, but the more Fallen Angels he summons, the more danger Caz and her fellow muses are in. Sam offers to help Caz in her fight against the vampires and the other Fallen, and the two agree to work together, fighting an overwhelming attraction that if acted upon could result in Caz’s death.
The world building in this novel is complex but clearly explained and easy to pick up even though I jumped into the series at book three. I appreciated how seamlessly the world was introduced to a new reader. The mix of Angels, demons, and vampires was fascinating, and Ms. Hauf integrated religious elements into her novel while still leaving a lot open to speculation. The background of the Fallen and the demons is explained clearly, but I’m still uncertain about the origins of the vampires in this world. Given the focus on the muse heroine and angel hero, however, the origins of the vampires were not necessary to the story and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel.
Sam and Caz were likeable characters, and since Sam had only recently returned to Earth after the vampires summoned him, he’s an interesting mix of innocence and experience that Caz finds irresistible. I like that Ms. Hauf turned the tables on the trope of the “virgin” heroine learning about her sexuality with this one, since Caz has to teach Sam how to kiss! The sexual tension between the two was sizzling and dangerous, since there's the possibility that Sam will assault Caz if he reverts to his stronger angel form. Caz is a sensual, creative woman, and it’s easy to see that Sam’s attraction to her soon becomes more than just the link between a muse and a Fallen Angel.
While most of the novel was action-packed with Caz and Sam fighting demons, Fallen Angels, and vampires, there were also some really funny lines. I laughed out loud several times, especially at the scene where Sam gets a little tipsy and is informed that the feelings he’s describing for Caz are definitely love. When he and Caz first meet, he teases her by calling her hilarious nicknames just to annoy her. Sam may be an Angel, but he’s got a wicked sense of humor! When Caz calls him on the endearments, he asks if she would “prefer sweetie? Perhaps mein little cupcake?” And later he tells her that he’d kill any Fallen who tried to attack her, claiming that he prefers the word “smite over murder.” Who wouldn’t?
I only have two criticisms about the novel. The first is that the epilogue wraps everything up in a neat package, but I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary. The book ends with a dramatic fight that packs a strong punch, and the epilogue seems a bit quick to resolve everything. I suspect the novel could have ended either without the epilogue or with another chapter and the ending wouldn’t have felt so rushed.
The second complaint is not really related to the novel at all but rather the novella. The Ninja Vampire’s Girl was previously published in an anthology, and feels really short, possibly less  than 20,000 words, although that could merely be my perception. Because the novel is so well written with such engaging characters and dialogue the much shorter novella suffers by comparison. It details how Caz’s sister Coco met her vampire boyfriend Zane while searching for a Fallen Angel’s halo. The story is cute, but it’s written in 2 separate first-person points of view, with a lot of jumping from one POV to the next. In the advanced reader copy there was no separation to indicate the jump from one POV to the other, which was a bit confusing, but I’m sure in the published version that is not the case. Ms. Hauf wrote the third-person POV so well in the novel that the first-person POVs of Coco and Zane in the novella come across as underdeveloped.
Despite the novella’s shortcomings, I really enjoyed Ashes of Angels and as soon as I finished it I went online to check out Ms. Hauf’s webpage to look up the other books and novellas in the series. The summaries of the first and second books make it clear that they take place in the same world and focus on different types of heroes and heroines, which further impresses me with Ms. Hauf’s creativity. I’ll definitely be catching up on the rest of the series and look forward to future installments of the series!
I received a copy of this book for review from the Publisher through NetGalley.

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