Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Monday, July 8, 2019

Monday, July 8, 2019: YA Maximum Shelf: Angel Mage

Katherine Tegen Books: Angel Mage by Garth Nix

Katherine Tegen Books: Angel Mage by Garth Nix

Katherine Tegen Books: Angel Mage by Garth Nix

Katherine Tegen Books: Angel Mage by Garth Nix

Angel Mage

by Garth Nix

Garth Nix, the bestselling author of the young adult Old Kingdom series, pays homage to Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers in this sweeping fantasy narrative about requesting, using and harnessing the power of the heavens. Angel Mage introduces a vast world of power structures--both angelic and human--then pushes their boundaries past the breaking point. Nix's elaborately detailed universe is inhabited by captivating, fully fleshed characters whose lives and ambitions dangerously intertwine.

Epic in scope and size, Nix's Angel Mage takes place in a world in which physical symbols of heavenly powers (icons) can be used by humans to connect with any in several pantheons of angels. The prologue drops readers into the fall of the nation of Ystara as a plague of angelic magic rampages, killing some Ystarans through a disease called the "Ash Blood" and turning all the rest into "monsters while they still live." The Cardinal used her icon to call upon Palleniel, the Archangel of Ystara, "on the first day, when the King began to bleed ash," in hopes the angel would stop the plague. "Palleniel answered but would not do [her] bidding" because, he said, "another commanded him now." As the country devolved into bloody chaos, the neighboring Archangels--"Ashalael of Sarance in the north and Turikishan of Menorco in the south"--closed the Ystaran borders "to all heavenly beings," meaning none of Palleniel's pantheon of angels, the newly created beasts nor the Ash Blood plague could leave the country.

A small group of people, the followers of a lesser-known, potentially heretical charter called Palleniel Exalted, escaped the slaughter by following their leader, Liliath, the Maid of Ellanda, into Sarance. Liliath "had been an incredible young woman, astonishing the world with her ability to make icons and channel angels from childhood." It was rumored that she "was uniquely able to avoid the cost of calling upon angelic powers"--that is, rapid aging based on the strength of the angel--and it was whispered she may have "somehow corrupted Palleniel," drawing him away from the country's aid and even bringing about its destruction. No one knows for sure, though, and Liliath disappeared soon after the Ystarans crossed into Sarance.

Over a century later, Liliath wakes "in total darkness with cold stone under her." A voice tells her "that which you waited for has occurred, and so I awake you," informing her that four "suitable candidates" are ready. "But there should be hundreds..." Liliath protests, furious that "her plans--her destiny--should once again go awry." She calms herself by thinking, "four should be enough. Even one might suffice...." Liliath does not yet know that she has awoken to a world in which all descendants of Ystara--all those born of the people she helped escape--are treated as an underclass. Because angelic magic used on them always results in either death from the Ash Blood plague or mutation into a beastling, they are called "Refusers" and forced to wear gray for easy identification.

Liliath's four suitable candidates are also lacking information, oblivious to Liliath's machinations and unknown to each other. All four are beginning their adult lives in Sarance, seeking higher education, well-paying jobs or glory. Sarance is now a wealthy nation ruled in the same way Ystara was: a Queen, her chosen King by her side and an angel mage Cardinal who speaks directly with the country's Archangel to help govern. The different armed groups that serve the Queen and Cardinal are, like the rulers, regularly at odds with each other, with Captain-General Dartagnan and her Musketeers siding with the Queen, while Captain Rochefort and her Pursuivants (angel mage "soldiers and secret agents") protect the Cardinal and her interests. Into this hierarchical structure step Simeon MacNeel, "a student of medicine"; Agnez Descaray, "a cadet of the Queen's Musketeers"; Henri Dupallidin, "a clerk in the service of the Cardinal"; and Dorotea Imsel, "an icon-maker." The four young people are placed into residences in Sarance's Tower of London-like Star Fortress, either through happy circumstances--Agnez is a Musketeer, Henri has been promoted--or through dangerous connections--Simeon is under investigation for a dangerous encounter with a beastling, Dorotea is being held as a "guest" of the Tower because she has magic skills considered heretical. There, the four meet each other, discovering an immediate connection, and begin a journey they did not want to undertake for a goal they cannot understand.

Nix's tribute to Dumas is a captivating work, perfect for readers who want a hefty fantasy. Nix's author letter says that he wanted his "world to have gender equality" and, so, where Dumas's work assumes all people must be white men, Nix's places women and people of color at the heart of power--women are running countries, leading armies, fighting with the Musketeers and bringing about the end of all humanity. Angel Mage is wholly entertaining and likely to stay with readers for quite a while after they've finished. And it is simply wonderful to see so many bad-ass intelligent, talented, magical women prop up the world and threaten to take it down. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, $19.99, hardcover, 560p., ages 14-up, 9780062683229, October 1, 2019

Katherine Tegen Books: Angel Mage by Garth Nix

Garth Nix: Magic and Kickass Female Characters

 photo: Wendy McDougall

Garth Nix has been a full-time writer since 2001, but has also worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales rep, bookseller and served in the Australian Army Reserve. His bestselling books include the Old Kingdom fantasy series; Shade's Children and A Confusion of Princes; and a Regency romance with magic, Newt's Emerald. More than five million copies of his books have been sold around the world, in 42 languages. Angel Mage, his newest YA novel, will be published by Katherine Tegan Books in October.

This is your longest book to date. Why is this particular work heftier than your others? Did it feel as if the needs of the story required the near-600 pages?

It's only just my longest, Lirael comes very close. With Angel Mage, I am telling a story with essentially five main characters, whose stories intertwine and grow together, and this needed a little more space than my other books. Of course, in the general field of epic fantasy, it is no more than medium-sized!

What is it about The Three Musketeers that inspired you to write Angel Mage?

I think it is the same impulse that inspires rereading favorite books, when you want to experience them over and over again, to reenter that world and live in it. For me, I wanted to create a similar feel of adventure and derring-do, while not actually being a retelling or version of the same story.

Why angels and a young adult audience?

This speaks to the heart of the eternal question "what is a YA novel?" To me, The Three Musketeers is a YA novel, because my preferred definition of YA books is that they are essentially adult novels that have particular appeal to teenagers and up. I first read The Three Musketeers at 12 or 13, and have loved and reread it ever since (though you do need a good translation, Lowell Bair's in Bantam Classics is a good one). As for angels, it was an instinctual thing, as I thought about what kind or kinds of magic would fit in with a 17th-century alternative European world. Also, I am deeply fascinated with angels.

How did you name all of the angels? There is something about all of the names that feels (to this English-speaker) very, well, angelic. How did you find that vibe?

I did make up the angel names, but drew very much on existing names and usage, including the Hebrew suffixes of -iel and -ael. Most angel names we know today were in fact made up in the medieval era by many different writers--there are very few named in biblical texts.

A thing that particularly struck me was how intricate the power structures and hierarchies in this work are. How did you develop those?

Much of that is historical or adapted from real history. I am a great reader of history of all kinds, from fairly heavy academic tomes to popular histories and biographies, and historical fiction. I tend to mentally collect small details that will come in handy in my own fiction.

And the details in clothing, too! One character wears red heels to denote her title, correct? There's also a fair amount of face paint.

Red heels were an historical thing, to denote nobility. There is a long history in many different cultures of sumptuary laws that set out what people from different social classes could wear or not. Face paint was also very prevalent in the 17th century--the white face paint apparently poisoned many people because it was made of lead. I adapted that to crimson paint for the Cardinal simply because it would be different and also scary.

The thing I loved the most about this book was how regularly I was forced to confront my own assumed white-male default, especially in positions of power. Cardinal, Captain, Captain-General and so on are all women, mostly women of color. And all are well-developed individuals with their own plans and desires, leading countries or actively working to destroy them--I loved that the women are the heroes, the villains and everything in between. To the point: why a tribute to such a white male-heavy book? Did you find yourself fighting your own white male default as you wrote?

It's interesting, because hardly anyone would notice if all those supporting characters were men, that would just be the default of centuries continued. Having most of the cast of the powerful and important be women and people of color shouldn't be significant. In my own small way, I'm trying to break an age-old mindset and expectation in fiction that it will be all male, to reflect the modern realization that gender and skin color should be irrelevant to employment, position and power. I set out long ago to fight my own white male default, in the Old Kingdom books and elsewhere, but of course I have needed help along the way to break me out of many ingrained perceptions and privileges, and it is an ongoing process.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf readers?

After working very hard myself to work out how to describe the book, I think my efforts were superseded by my British publicist Stevie Finegan, who nailed it in a tweet: "Did you always want the three musketeers to have MAGIC and KICKASS FEMALE CHARACTERS?" --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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