In the library world, we spend a lot of time guessing what will be the next big thing… we’ve been moving away from vampires (oh so slowly) and more heavily towards steampunk and dystopian fiction. Supernatural romance is still going strong, but we’re seeing more alternatives, including werewolves, faeries, zombies, and angels. Rebecca Guay’s A Flight of Angels brings together an assortment of stories that explore the celestial beings from several different perspectives, each with its own unique voice and artistic style.
The collection features five stories and a frame – a wounded angel has fallen deep in the woods, only to be found by a group of faeries. They hold a tribunal to decide his fate – should they aid, ignore, or kill him? Every faerie has a story to tell, but no one truly knows the nature of angels. Are they guardians or killers? Righteous soldiers or the ideal lover? And what, exactly, is their relationship with the fae-folk? The tribunal’s stories imagine several different facets of angels; there’s a retelling of Adam and Eve, a chance meeting in a bar with an angel who’s part of weapons development, a woman hiding from an angel of death, a clumsy serving girl who’s attracted the attention of an angel, and the fall of Lucifer as a sort of creation story. The tribunal comes to a surprising ending, leaving us to wonder just how much truth was in the tales.
The five stories are written by accomplished writers in both the world of comics and prose literature: Holly Black, Louise Hawes, Todd Mitchell, Alisa Kwitney, and Bill Willingham. As is the case with most collections, some stories are stronger than others. Hawes’s “Original Sin,” a different take on Adam and Eve’s departure from Eden, contains some of the most breathtaking art and stands well on its own literary merits. Readers will enjoy the twist on the serpent and who took the first bite. Willingham’s “Story Within the Story Within” is perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch, though the tone and setting jar with the rest of the work. It’s told in a more current setting, as a sort of confessional by an angel who’s been working on the escalating war between Heaven and Hell. His contribution is engaging in a way that many of the other stories aren’t able to match; the characters are well-defined and the politics of Heaven are fleshed out. The pacing in other works is often muddled, either moving too slowly or condensing parts that would’ve been better served with a few additional pages.
Guay’s art is the real attraction here. Her watercolors and oils are stunning, giving the book a classical feel. Each story gets its own unique style, all of them beautiful and fitting for the content. It’s tempting to reread the work just to bask in Guay’s drawings. While the five stories are told in vivid, lush colors, the frame is illustrated using a monochrome palette, lending it a certain timeless quality.
Fans of angel lore may enjoy this offering. While the book is about a religious topic – how do you write about angels without religion coming in to question? – the writers and Guay manage to stay away from preachiness. This feels more like a collection of myths and folktales, rather than a faith-based text. The art outshines the storytelling, which may leave many readers unsatisfied with the collection. A short page count, abrupt ending, and uneven writing may outweigh the value of the gorgeous art and stronger stories.