Angry Angel, The
Review by The Mad Bibliographer, submitted on 9-Oct-2001
A version of this review will appear in The Vampire's Crypt 18 (Fall 1998). The Vampire's Crypt web site is: http://members.aol.com/MLCVamp/vampcrpt.htm
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. The Angry Angel. (Sisters of the Night) Illus. Christopher H. Bing. Avon, March 1998. ISBN 0-380-97400-2; $23.00/$30.00.
Everybody has biases. One of mine is against yet another change rung on the theme of Dracula, Dracula, Dracula. For goodness' sake, the centennial of Stoker's novel has come and gone: Can't we give this topic a respite?
But if we've got to have more Dracula ringing about our rosies, let's at least have it done in style: in a snazzy hardcover with woodcut-like illustrations at the beginning of each chapter. And let's have it written by one of the masters. Preceded by Saberhagen and Kalogridis, Yarbro, likewise an accomplished fictioneer, tackles this old vampire fiction chestnut by giving it a feminist slant. Best known among vampire aficionados for her series of novels focused on the historically-based character Count Saint-Germain, Yarbro has published the first of a projected trilogy that will give histories to Dracula's three female companions.
THE ANGRY ANGEL is set in early sixteenth-century Eastern Europe, when Turkish oppression was a fearful reality for many Christian (or formerly Christian) regions. Kelene (pronounced, as Yarbro points out, Keh-LEE-nee), a young woman unusual for being a blonde-haired Greek, is even more remarkable for her visions, visions bestowed by a creature with dark, sweeping wings. Her devout father is certain that Kelene's visitant is one of the Militant Angels. The visions always foretell truly, and they guide the family from Salonika (just ahead of the invading Turks) to Sarajevo and then Belgrade. But although Kelene herself remains whole, the family is gradually pulled apart; death takes little Hector and then the infant Pericles, and Kelene's mother Melantha doubts that the vision-guidance is of use to anyone but Kelene: "Kelene's angel seeks only to guard her.... If she were not here, we would be chaff in the wind to the angel."
Kelene also has her doubts, especially as the angel's visits grow thrilling to her in ways she has been taught are not the ways of angels and as his voice speaks again and again of her death and resurrection. "I will be with you when you are certain all hope is gone," the dark voice tells her. "I will claim you." And in Belgrade the family's fortunes do, impossibly, turn even worse when father Diogenes falls ill. Kelene offers herself to be sold into slavery for money to treat him. The winning bid is enough to make the family rich, and the bidder -- the Dragon Prince, Dracula -- takes his new slave away on a journey to his far-off home, a journey that is more than a journey, a trial and initiation and a painful awakening to the truth of what it is to be Chosen of Dracula.
Yarbro's Saint-Germain novels unfailingly portray man's inhumanity at its height (or depths) but soften the blow by following a gentle and caring hero. There is no such softness in THE ANGRY ANGEL, a book that grows steadily darker as it progresses, as if traveling into the shadow cast by an angry angel's wings. Yarbro's unfailing grasp of historical detail as a reflection of human nature's darkest aspects informs practically every page, from the blatantly oppressive levying of taxes to descriptions of torture. Only Dracula himself ultimately provides Kelene some respite from the dangers of her times -- and only some, for although he will not harm Kelene directly, he exacts fearful penalties on others for disobedience -- including her disobedience.
Dracula himself is a particularly mysterious figure. Portrayed as capricious and by today's standards cruel, domineering, and egotistical, his methods and motives are deliberately kept obscure, making him as much a frightening mystery to the reader as to his slave Kelene. The link to the historical warrior prince Dracula is present but not much emphasized. This Dracula is a Power like no earthly power, and the narrative's focus on the subjugated Kelene's experience emphasizes his otherness -- in fact, his otherworldliness.
Although very much a dark book, THE ANGRY ANGEL has too much of anger and determination, particularly Kelene's, to ever be truly gloomy. It moves at a rapid pace, and while Kelene is never master of her fate, she knows her own mind and speaks it often enough to remain appealing. Whether defending the visions of her angel or telling off an impertinent serving woman at Dracula's castle, her never-slavish spirit perseveres. Given all that she endures, it is almost strange that her story never descends to despair -- yet somehow it never does. The ending, however, leaves the reader, like Kelene, freed from any burden of false hope about her future.
The second book in the trilogy, THE SOUL OF AN ANGEL, is slated for March 1999 publication; the third, THE ANGEL OF DEATH, is expected in 2000.The Mad Bibliographer