The Life in the Angel Carving by JS Warren

7/10 The Life in the Angel Carving is truly an unusual and in some ways a remarkable story.

In a post-apocalyptic Earth, Miranda is a sentient spirit trapped inside an angel statue carved of stone. As war destroys the world, the statue falls through an intergalactic vortex and lands on the planet Arbarron. Miranda soon learns that she can turn into a flesh-and-blood angel for extended cycles under the light of a double sun. There she discovers a utopian society ruled by a wise, mysterious king, an all-powerful being of unknown origin who is said to have created the world as a haven for its diverse species of people. Readily accepted and loved by all the people of Arbarron, Miranda is charged by the King with defending her new world against an encroaching darkness that threatens the peace of all who live in it.

The Life in the Angel Carving is truly an unusual and in some ways a remarkable story. The worldbuilding is nothing short of astounding. J.S. Warren paints such gorgeous settings and invests her landscapes with such surreal imagery that I was constantly spellbound by the breadth of her imagination. Her wolrdbuilding feels dreamlike and vivid in a way that is often lacking in fantasy, and is a refreshing change from the literal foundation many authors build upon.

The characters are also interesting, particularly the enigmatic, all-powerful king, whose origin deserved more exploration than it was given in the text. Miranda too is an appealing, courageous heroine; an interesting subplot involves Miranda transcending her stone origins throughout the novel to become a true angel. More could have been done, though, in the way of testing her character’s strengths and weaknesses, such as the brief scene in which Miranda is confronted with a dark angel, her “opposite.”

That’s my main problem with this book: the narrative suffers from a lack of tension. It feels as if not enough happens in the way of action, as much of the book is given over to Miranda’s explorations of her new world. Conversely, the plot meanders from one adventure to the next, too episodic to give us much in the way of character development. I suspect this is a very young work. The ideas are good, but the book could certainly benefit from a few more drafts and an editor’s attention.

Nevertheless, the unique ideas stuck with me long after I finished the book. I loved the developing connection between Miranda and the king (though again, I would have liked more romance throughout the course of the novel), and I loved the stellar worldbuilding. This is the kind of visual quest story that would translate well to a video game or a lovely animated movie. I really hope the author will revise this novel someday, infuse it with some building tension, and sell it to a traditional publisher.

Like an old-fashioned pastoral full of idyllic scenes and virtuous heroines, the novel is essentially a utopia, a world of possibilities in response to the shortcomings of the modern world. Utopias are rare indeed in modern fantasy, and this book has too solid a premise to sell itself short on a not very cohesive plot. But I hope J.S. Warren continues to write more fantasy, as I would love to see how she grows into her considerable talents.

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