Archangel - Sharon Shinn This is one of my favorite fantasy novels. I’ve read it at least three times, maybe more, and enjoyed it each time. It’s a love story but not a simplistic formula romance with its required number of hot sex pages. Nor is it a didactic religious book, as might be inferred from the title (unfortunate in my opinion). It’s a story about two people searching for connection.
Sharon Shinn’s Samaria novels need no introduction. In 1996, the first in the series, Archangel, burst into the fantasy genre and opened up a unique world where men, angels and music coexist. The angels of Samaria are not what you might think, no. They are hot-blooded men and women, fallible and diverse like any other race. Their only differences from humans are wings and exceptional voices. Whenever ordinary people need divine help, the angels fly high into the sky and sing/pray to their god, asking for medicine or rain, sunshine or vegetable seeds, and their god promptly and unavoidably provides. A timely divine intervention: an unattainable dream on Earth, but a reality in Samaria.
On such an original background, the novel centers on two protagonists: the angel Gabriel and the human woman Rachel. Their god decreed that they should marry, but neither is happy about the situation. In her story, Shinn deftly weaves together biblical references, a fantasy thriller, and a romantic maze, and the result is a delightfully complex and multicolored tale, bursting with lively tunes and ingenious plot twists like a classic opera.
Music plays one of the major roles in the story, but its best assets are its protagonists, who are incompatible at first glance. Rachel is stubborn and defiant, compassionate to the poor and full of hatred towards the wealthy. After growing up with a nomadic Edori tribe, she harbors a worldview that is almost contrary to the one entertained by the angels. She doesn’t wish to be an angel’s wife; she dislikes and mistrusts all angels: they are too rich, too privileged. Besides, after tragically losing her first beloved, she is unwilling to love again.
Gabriel, a leader designate of Samaria, knows right from wrong and is inflexible about his ethical principles. He cares deeply about the land but he doesn’t like people much. In the following quote, he gives his own character a fair estimation: “… they were the same to him, the land and the people, the same in an abstract way: things to be cared for the way some people cared for their crops or their livestock or their collection of glass and pewter. Though he maintained an emotional distance from his people, they were a part of him in ways he could not make anyone else understand. They defined him. They gave him a reason for being. If there were not people for angels to watch over, he, Gabriel, would not exist. And so he loved them because they told him who he was.”
Gabriel demands much of others and even more of himself. One of his friends said about him: “Gabriel gets very testy when angels misuse power for personal comfort. But then, almost everything makes Gabriel testy. If we all conformed to his standards, we would sit mute and motionless… thinking only poor thoughts.”
When Rachel’s simmering passion and Gabriel’s righteous remoteness clash, the inevitable sparks fly in all directions. And the story of these two opposite people and their struggle for mutual understanding makes a fascinating read, especially with the addition of a power hungry villain and a bunch of vivid secondary characters with their own sets of problems.
The action is not too fast; there are moments of contemplation and introspection but they are organic to Shinn’s prose, which is lyrical and precise. Every single note has been carefully chosen by the author. If Tolkien were a symphony, Shinn would be a string quartet.
Recommended to all fantasy readers.

My favorite quote, Gabriel's first impression of Rachel: “She looked to be nothing but eyes and tatters and undomesticated golden hair.”