Welcome to Monday Musings, a series where I review books that I read pre-end of 2017, when I started writing wrap-ups, talk about characters or topics that aren’t as relevant, or sometimes a surprise non-bookish thing. This week, we’re talking about one of my favorite series that I’ve never actually seen anyone else review, so let’s get started!
I don’t even know how to accurately describe for you how much I love these books.
The Watchers, originally published in May 2012, follows three different characters: Marc Rochat, a young man with a mental disability (that’s never specified) that works in Lausanne Cathedral in Switzerland; Katherine Taylor, a call girl that is thrown headlong into a world of myth and mayhem; and Jay Harper, a private detective who has no memory of his past–or, more importantly, who he is.
Don’t let this fool you. I went in completely unaware that I was about to embark on an adventure full of Biblical lore. Yes, Biblical. Without spoiling the insanity that is this journey, this boils down to a war between Heaven and Hell, but in the grittiest, darkest manner possible. The Watchers only just begins to touch upon this, and instead mostly focuses on the three main characters.
Their stories don’t intertwine for a bit–these books are a little long and sometimes dense, but well worth the read. The language isn’t stilting by any means, but it requires patience and full immersion. This isn’t the kind of book you read on the beach while on vacation. It will consume you and demand all of your attention. While we get to know Marc, Katherine, and Jay separately, the plot itself is pretty slow in the beginning. This takes a lot of time for exposition, gearing the reader up for a truly in-depth and complex narrative.
Perhaps my favorite parts of these novels are the locations. Each one takes place in a different, well-known spot–Lausanne Cathedral, the catacombs of Paris, and several holy sites in Jerusalem. They’re so pivotal to each of the different pieces of the whole story, and the writing made me feel like I was being plunged into each one and actually there. It’s honestly no surprise to me that my biggest writing project, Saintsverse, involves a massive cathedral. The plot of it centers around a lot of different religious aspects, but it’s the cathedral, most importantly, that everything comes back to, much like in The Watchers.
That said, the catacombs in Paris in Angel City, still give me goosebumps. I’ve actually been writing this blog post for several weeks because I keep walking away from it, and every time I come back, it’s because I can’t stop thinking about the catacombs in Paris. It was truly terrifying to be down there in this story. Steele writes in such a way that I really believe I’m there with his characters, that perhaps, even, these things have actually happened.
In Angel City, we’re finally starting to see some of the Biblical lore come into play. We know now that there are bigger things afoot than just a war of humans. Without giving away any spoilers (and no, don’t worry, I won’t spoil Jay Harper for you, but man, that was a plot twist and a half), our fearless three survive a battle against, you guessed it, angels at the end of the first book, and now, at the beginning of Angel City, it’s been three trying years.
I quite enjoy when books skip ahead years. The Kingdom of Copper by SA Chakraborty did that recently, with a five-year jump, and I was thoroughly enamored with the decision. It immediately sets this tone that things have settled down, plot-wise, and that when we’re seeing our characters, they’re expectedly different. It’s a nifty little writing tool that allows for development without a whole ton of actual on-page development. Obviously, it can be done poorly, but not in Steele’s (or Chakraborty’s) case.
Our three are now down to two three years later, and we find Katherine living a quiet life with her son and constant guards while Harper is off in Paris trying to hold onto the fraying edges of what he thought his life was. And even though we’ve now started to unveil the twist that is Jay Harper, we’re not quite there. Harper himself hasn’t come to terms with everything he’s discovered, and he doesn’t have quite as much knowledge as one would expect, given his circumstances, and so we, as the reader, are left in a very peculiar place of understanding Biblical lore to a certain point. We know what we expect to happen, but will it? Harper is such an unlikely person for his role that I was never sure what would come next, despite the overarching themes in the Bible.
There’s a lot more of a mystery novel feel at times in this second installment, or even crime novel feel. I was a bit indifferent about things that were happening outside of Harper and Katherine’s immediate vicinity, but fair warning, do not skim or skip or whatever it is people do when they’re not all the way interested. You’re going to want to have paid attention for the next one.
Like all good trilogies, the truth of whether or not it’s going to stand out in your mind comes with the third book, and The Way of Sorrows sucker-punched me into remembering it forever. Honestly, I think about these books all the time, and I have them faced-out on my shelves so that they’re easy to spot, and it’s largely in part to this novel. (Though the first one does hold a special spot in my heart because of the cathedral.)
Now, if I’ve hooked you with that little Biblical lore teaser, but it doesn’t feel like it’s really paid off, we have arrived. Imagine God casting Lucifer out and Michael roaring after him to make sure he’s sent to Hell. Imagine the Battle of the Five Armies from The Hobbit. Imagine Blackwater Bay from A Song of Ice and Fire. And then put all of them together. I’m talking cataclysmic consequences.
Set primarily in the holy city of Jerusalem, this is a battle between Heaven and Hell that pits humanity and Earth right in the middle. Everything is at stake, and not just because angels and demons are at war, but because they now have access to nuclear weapons. Heaven’s goal is to find Paradise again. Hell’s goal is to destroy everything in sight. And what follows is the wildest battle I’ve ever read. It’s also probably one of the longest as it spans a good portion of this book and does not let up.
It’s hard to say much else without ruining some big plot points, but know that this is a conclusion well worth these massive 500-page tomes.
Here’s the thing. I started this trilogy in January 2017 and loved it so much that I read both books in the following two months. If you’ve paid any attention to my reviews, you know I’m way behind on a lot of series and I like to spread them out over time for no discernible reason. But I was so hooked on these that I bought the second two while I was in the middle of the first one and then read them one after the other. It’s also been over two years, and I’m still thinking about them.
If you like weird, chaotic tales about legendary figures duking it out on a 21st century playing field, this one’s for you. Plus, Steele is a renowned war reporter, so he crafts a stage for his epic battles exceptionally. Oh, and his Twitter is pretty hilarious.