By Paula R. Stiles
Sniegoski, Thomas E. Where Angels Fear to Tread: A Remy Chandler Novel. New York: ROC, March 2010. 304pp. USD $14.99; CDN $17.50. ISBN-10: 0451463145; ISBN-13: 978-0451463142.
Where Angels Fear to Tread is the third novel in the Remy Chandler series, about a seraph who left Heaven in disgust after the War between Lucifer and God, came down to earth and eventually settled down as a private detective in Boston. This time, Remy (real name “Remiel”) is asked to find a missing girl, Zoe, who is autistic and can predict the future through crude drawings. He quickly gets sucked into the shenanigans of a revived cult of the ancient biblical god Dagon (Bet that name just rang a few bells with our readers), the ongoing feud between Samson and Delilah (both still living due to God’s curse), and a missing part of creation itself.
Meanwhile, Remy is not exactly rock-steady and is having a bit of an identity crisis. Remember how I said yesterday that the conflict between his human and seraph personae was getting worse in Dancing on the Head of a Pin? Well, things start to get really ugly in this third book and since it’s been an increasing theme over three books and we now see Remy having little mental vacations with his dead wife at inconvenient times (like when he’s about to get chomped on by zombies. Yup, thar be zombies in this one), I don’t imagine he’ll get magically better in the next one, A Hundred Words for Hate. An ex-seraph having an identity crisis? Kind of a threat to the humans in his vicinity, and by “in his vicinity”, I mean “everybody living on the Atlantic Seaboard”.
That said, I’m still not entirely satisfied with the way Sniegoski portrays this conflict. A lot of it has to do with the worldbuilding mechanics of that plot. The seraph keeps bursting out and blasting away the human part, yet seconds later, the human shell is back in place. The ten-year-old in me that still wonders how lightsabers work keeps thinking, “Well, okay, but what does that look like? What happens to the human skin when it’s blasted away? Does it just reconstitute itself? What about his clothes? Which one is Remy, the human or the seraph?” And so on and so forth.
Also, the book suffers from a tendency to repeat lines and descriptions, which is too bad because I like Sniegoski’s style in general.
Not all of the characters work. Delilah is a paint-by-numbers diable fatale (though her backstory and how she was rediscovered are interesting, as is her ability to create zombies by eating people’s souls) and Samson is a big lug to drops f-bombs more often than catchy dialogue. Some of the other characters (like Methusaleh, who has become a golem) are, sadly, throwaways and Zoe’s parents wear thin on the patience after a while, especially Daddy. Samson’s Wonder Twin kids are also pretty irritating.
But then we get to Dagon. Dagon’s fun. First, yes, he’s the biblical, Canaanite/Sumerian version and no, Sniegoski doesn’t explicitly reference Lovecraft. But by Lovecraft he is most certainly inspired. The Church of His Holy Abundance is one seriously messed-up combination of the Waco church, the Solar Temple and the Cult of Dagon (especially from The Shadow Over Innsmouth). Dagon, in true Mythos fashion, has been called in from the outer dark via human sacrifice, but incompletely, so he sustains himself by alternately eating and possessing people. He even tries to take a bite out of Remy.
Second, Dagon is trying to find a way of reestablishing his godhood, not so much to rule the earth as simply to survive. Having been in the outer dark, he’s developed an allergy to oblivion and will do some strange and extreme things (even for an ancient fish-god) to stay alive. Ironically, Delilah, who is as obsessed with the story’s macguffin as Dagon, wants to die. Even more ironically (though fitting for this type of protagonist), Remy has no use whatsoever for the macguffin, which embodies what he has far too much of already. There are several immortal/near-immortal characters in Where Angels Fear to Tread. None of them are wrapped too tight; most of them are physically grotesque, even monstrous. Remy, who began the series almost human and could still be classified as the most “normal” of the supernatural creatures whom he fights and hobnobs with, is still a hair shy of going postal. So, that should give you an idea about the state of mind of his opponents.
I was surprised by the comments of some reviewers who didn’t like the procedural nature of the story compared to the previous two novels. Personally, I liked that this was a real case and Remy was investigating it instead of being dragged bodily into celestial politics, as in previous stories. It made him more proactive and showed him being an actual detective. Also, keeping things grounded (literally) on earth made it easier to relate to the action. Sure, I was curious about questions like: “What happened to Francis?” But some of the allegorical action in the previous books felt more distant than even the drawn-out craziness of the latter part of Where Angels Fear to Tread. I guess weird cult people and zombies made more sense to me.
The cover puzzled me at first, especially when I got inside and didn’t see as much angel-on-angel violence as in previous books. However, I think now that it’s intended to be a mirror-image thing where Remy the human detective and Remiel the seraph are squaring off. Which is rather a curious choice if you’ve read the book.
Finally, keep in mind that ROC apparently puts out a larger, and somewhat more expensive, trade paperback (which, oddly, I found in the general fiction section with the other mysteries) and then a mass-market version (this one appearing in the science fiction/fantasy section of my bookstore) a year later. I reviewed the trade paperback version of this, since the mass-market won’t be out until February. Just so you know.
You can find Where Angels Fear to Tread on Amazon.com.
Angels and Demons Week continues through December 31.