13 March 2010

The Ninth Circle

Written by Alex Bell
Golancz, 2008, 262 pgs.

The 2008-2009 season on The CW featured a little known show (at the time) called Supernatural. That program, which typically followed the Freak of the Week formula, suddenly uped the ante when it introduced Angels into the mix, and furthermore, a impending Apocalypse. Instantly, I fell in love with the idea. As the fantastic story progressed, the writers created such rich, interesting characters: these Angels were fierce warriors who took no bullshit; and repeatedly, the character of Lucifer was cast in a tragic, human-esque light, something I hadn't encountered before (but has since been duplicated, like, a lot). Completely new and original to me, this superb tale of a army of Angels fighting to stop Lucifer rising - man, it was invigorating. Every new episode that furthered the mythology was extraordinary - a awesome piece of writing.

Supernatural is now concluding its fifth season, and furthermore, concluding the Apocalypse storyline. My thirst for storylines similar to this - of warrior Angels and a tragic fallen power from grace all grounded in relatable reality - was and still is pretty damn big. The first book that I was referred to was Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee. A very well written book, it delved head-long into pre-creation days to post-Adam and Eve, all told from the perspective of a demon telling his tale to a publication agent. Hearing the demon's interpretation of events, hearing about the event of their fall from grace and Lucifer's subsequent feeling of betrayal by God...brilliant.

The second book in my Que was The Ninth Circle, the first book written by a young Alex Bell, who is becoming quite the up-and-coming UK author. She already has two other book written and published (Jasmyn, Lex Trent versus the Gods) to great success. Reading the back synopsis, seemingly about a Angel named Gabriel Antaeus and some stuff about a lot of Evil, it was a sure bet read. Two for two, it is. Both Demon: A Memoir and The Ninth Circle are 100% recommended books, but enough of my backstory giving, onto my Ninth Circle gushing:

Gabriel Antaeus wakes up in a Budapest flat bloodied and struck with a really bad case of amnesia. There's a good million(s) dollar on a nearby table, a lot of religious books, and no hint whatsoever to who he is or what the life he leads is. To make matters weirder, he has strange dreams, sees a burning man in the mirror every once and a while, and receives strange packages with biblical writings by some unknown party. Gabriel begins to unravel his many mysterious one question at a time, but at the end, the truth is horrifying beyond his grasp, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have minded staying amnesic.

For a first timer, Alex Bell definitely displays a firm grasp of language, pace, and utter brilliance that would have fooled me. The Ninth Circle is truly a engaging book; the narrative structure used - journal entries, not too dissimilar to Dracula - creates such a energy to the reading, it's contagious. I read, my tummy goes gurgle, I need food, and I energetically consume some food, zooming around the kitchen, and then run back to this freakin' awesome book. See? Contagious. Alright, bad example. Moving on. Not only does the structure of the book make it seem like no time has passed at all from when you opened its pages to the concluding words, but the characters introduced as so rich, so three-dimensional (even in journal entries!) that I was turning page after page anxious to find out what they'd say or do next.

The book doesn't get bogged down by needless exposition scenes or completely unnecessary scenery descriptions (I'm looking at you, Stephen King), it gets right down to the nitty gritty; it has a tale to tell, and damnit, it's gonna be told!

The big revelation happens 40 pages before the climax, and I can confidently say I didn't see that one coming. At first, I was sort of taken aback; this wasn't what I signed up for, but as the story progressed and Gabriel's role in events were explained, I became a little laxed about it.

A final note, because I don't want to give too much away, I applaud Ms. Bell on her rich characters. Specifically, a particular big-name demon. The personality attributed to this demon was phenomenal, and I'm sorry to say, but I sometimes found myself rooting for him moreso than the Angels. By the end, Gabriel has found himself in one hell of a pickle, and boy wiz is it exciting. It's a familiar plot point reached at many supernatural stories, but there's a renewed sense of freshness to it, I felt like I was reading this storyline for the very first time, as surprised as a kid getting his first happy meal or check or something...

The final journal entry leaves me hope that a future installment will be forthcoming. Gabriel Antaeus and his religious plight has sucked me in, and I want more. I want to know about the choice this one particular character has to make, and what their final path will be. I want to know about these Angels and Demons and their absolutely brilliant personalities.

In conclusion, don't pass The Ninth Circle up. It's a fast, entertaining read with plenty of twists. Furthermore, Alex Bell is a new talent to be on the look-out for. Although her sophomore effort, Jasmyn, doesn't exactly float my boat, I'll give it a read anyway. Lex Trent sounds a little more my field, but a little hoaky at the same time. One way or another, I just read a really good book. Share the awesomeness.

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