Redemption and Hit-Men – “Angel Time” by Anne Rice
Both feature tall, blonde, striking leading men of questionable moral character, both involve jaunts through history, and both are the first book in what promises to be a long and entertaining series. (Rice’s Vampire Chronicles became a 10-book series with numerous film adaptations and some serious hard-core fandom.)
However, “Angel Time” and the Song of the Seraphim series it kicks off have a notable lack of vampires. Indeed, it’s a time for angels.
Ms. Rice has made waves lately by declaring she has left Christianity for a variety of reasons (many of which involve tolerance), and whether or not that’s important or relevant, it seems fitting that it should happen at a time when her writing seems to be shifting from darkness and evil to light and hope.
“Angel Time” is the story of a lonely man existing in a dark world who, thanks to the appearance of an angel, finds that his specific dastardly skill set can be used in helpful ways. It’s also the story of a man making peace with his mistakes and his past, and ultimately probably a story of redemption.
Toby O’Day, our protagonist, became a notorious hit-man after his childhood dreams were smashed by an alcoholic mother who murdered his two young siblings. On the run, Toby fell in with an unsavory bunch and wound up being a spectacularly good assassin. So now, ten years later, he’s at the top of his game and working for a sympathetic father-like boss, but is still haunted by ghosts both of people long gone as well as what could have been a good and valuable life. When an angel named Malchiach appears and requests his help, Toby agrees and is whirled back to 13th century England to aid a Jewish family accused of murdering their own daughter for possibly wanting to become a Christian.
(When I described the plot to my husband as “a little Doctor Who-ish,” he replied, “It’s not Doctor Who.. It’s Quantam Leap.” So, sci-fi fans, take that conversation as you will.)
Though well-written (as Rice always is) “Angel Time” is clearly a book meant to kick off a series. Specifically, there’s a heck of a lot of exposition. The book is divided into three chunks – the second part being totally background on Toby and how he got to be where he is. Of course, this is valid and necessary for a series to take off, but it takes away from the time that could be spent seeing Toby save the accused family, which is relegated to the last third of the book. As such, the resolution of that conflict comes pretty quickly and fairly easily which makes you wonder why they needed to import a 20th century hit-man. (Really, no one else could have come up with the same solution?)
Regardless of this flaw, I was entertained by “Angel Time” and will be curious to see how the rest of this new Rice series develops. Toby is a likable hero, made vivid by his contradictions and checkered past. I’d like to hear more about how the angels operate, as they seem to resemble a heavenly FBI of sorts, with their assignments and their rules. The angel Malchiach is mostly a vehicle for information in this novel, but could easily become much more. (Rice has wisely left that door wide open.)
The next book, “Of Love and Evil” comes out in November, and will apparently have Toby head to the 15th century Italian Renaissance.