Angels of Vengeance. Book Review

angelsofvengeanceANGELS OF VENGEANCE by John Birmingham

Titan Books, p/b, 572 pp , £7.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

One of the problems with a trilogy of very large books set on a huge canvas is that details can so easily be lost. With the entire planet to play with, and billions of inhabitants, it makes it hard to juggle a handful of characters in disparate parts of the world while the reader is trying to pull together connections that were touched on more than a thousand pages earlier. This is especially so when some of the key characters never meet. Also, in an opus as large as this, however much initial planning went into it there will be some paths the plot is forced to take due to the original premise. In this case, most of the United States was depopulated by a phenomenon (generally referred to as The Wave) that lasted a year. It is referred to but there has been no explanation, none of the characters are on the scientific team (if there is one) investigating it and there is no fear expressed that it will happen again. It was an idea that had one purpose only – to plunge the world into conflict. It assumes that everything would fall apart if America was not there to hold it together. That in itself is grounds for a lengthy debate.

The angels of vengeance of the title are three women, two of whom did meet in volume one (Without Warning). Lady Julianne ‘Jules’ Balwyn is a rogue. She lived most of her life on the edge, despite her English aristocratic background. At the time of The Wave, she was a smuggler but took advantage of the chaos and a large luxury depopulated yacht to take a group of rich American survivors to Australia. One that she didn’t take was Henry Cesky who has subsequently become important in the reconstruction of America. Cesky is a man that holds grudges.  He has already (in Volume 2- After America) tried to kill Jules by sending her and Rhino Ross into New York on a spurious errand at the time when President James Kipper was flattening it to drive out pirates and jihadists trying to take it over. Having failed Cesky has now sent assassins to Australia to dispose of Jules, Rhino and the Ghurkhas who helped her.

Originally on the yacht was the Pieraro family. They were granted homesteading rights in Texas but all the family except Miguel and his daughter Sofia were murdered by road agents. At the start of Angels of Vengeance, they are settling into life in Kansas City. Then Miguel is run down and killed. In Sofia’s mind this was not an accident. She decides on revenge. The person she blames for the deaths of her entire family is Jackson Blackstone, elected governor of Texas but who is becoming a serious problem to the Government in Seattle.  The third vengeful woman is Caitlin Monroe. Once a top field assassin, she thought she had retired to England with her husband and baby daughter. When they were attacked she went on the hunt for the man who had sent the hit squad. Bilal Baumer was the mastermind behind the attempted take over of New York but she missed him there. There was a possibility that he was killed in the final battle there, but Caitlin is not satisfied and is determined either to prove he is dead, or to finish the job. She also wants the men who arranged for him to be in a position to threaten her family. Her quest also takes her to Texas.

All three of these women are focused on their tasks and their behaviour is very masculine. In writing them, Birmingham takes no account for their sex, and the plot would mostly work if any of them were male. Largely, these are three separate stories and because they never really interact with each other it could be argued that their stories could be told separately with equal or more effectiveness.

If the problems with the background, and the raison d’etre of the plot are discounted them this becomes a fast paced, action packed novel of three harpies. Each individual story is well written and detailedly observed but it would have made for a little more variation if at least one of the three could have found a different way to get results without the full-on shoot-em-up and take no prisoners attitude. Birmingham has the courage to kill characters we have come to like so there is never any guarantee that they will survive – you do have to read to the end to find out who joins the massive body count. The ending is open enough for a fourth book in the series.

These are not subtle books even though Birmingham has tried to put some into the politics of the situation. There will be a lot of readers who will enjoy these books and relish and understand all the technical details.