Principles of Angels by Jaine Fenn (Hidden Empire: Book 1)

Khesh City floats above the surface of the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. Topside, it's extravagant, opulent, luxurious; the Undertow is dark, twisted and dangerous. Khesh City is a place where nothing is forbidden - but it's also a democracy, of sorts, a democracy by assassination, policed by the Angels, the elite, state-sponsored killers who answer only to the Minister, their enigmatic master. Taro lived with Malia, his Angel aunt, one of the privileged few, until a strange man bought his body for the night, then followed him home and murdered Malia in cold blood. Taro wants to find the killer who ruined his future, but he's struggling just to survive in the brutal world of the Undertow. Then an encounter with the Minister sets him on a new course, spying for the City; his target is a reclusive Angel called Nual. Elarn Reen is a famous musician, sent to Khesh City as the unwilling agent of mankind's oldest enemy, the Sidhe. To save her own life, she must find and kill her ex-lover, a renegade Sidhe. Though they come from different worlds, Taro and Elarn's fates are linked, their lives apparently forfeit to other people's schemes. As their paths converge, it becomes clear that the lives of everyone in Khesh City, from the majestic, deadly Angels to the barely-human denizens of the Undertow, are at risk. And Taro and Elarn, a common prostitute and an uncommon singer, are Khesh City's only chance…

This is actually the first book of Fenn’s that I read, and you’re thrown straight into the action right from the start with a hunt on the underside of a floating city. Local slang and technology come thick and fast - sometimes a little too much, and I did struggle to begin with. However, think Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere in space with maybe a touch of Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome and you’ll get a general feel for the book. The central character Taro takes you on a whirlwind introduction to his world beneath Khesh City - the Undertow. Here Angels are bringers of death - elite assassins - rather than heavenly messengers. After young Taro sees his Angel aunt Malia murdered, his life becomes a struggle to survive. He’s recruited by the Minister to spy on another Angel, Nual, a renegade Sidhe hiding in Khesh. But the Sidhe have sent an agent, Elarn Reen, to track Nual down, and the whole city is at risk.

Wonderful descriptions, tragic yet heroic characters and surprising hints all combine to draw you into the final conflict and revelation in the heart of Khesh City. This is sci-fi with a fantasy twist and just a touch of romance. While I felt drawn to Taro and his struggles, I felt less empathy for the singer Elarn. Her character seemed somewhat muted, but that could be deliberate as you discover the reasons behind her quest.

You can’t take anything for granted in this story, and even by the end when you think you know it all, you’re left feeling that there’s more to come.

9/10 This is sci-fi with a fantasy twist and just a touch of romance.

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