Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse
Solaris, paperback, £8.49
Review by Nadya Mercik
The tread of angels is supposed to be elegant, soft and beautiful. But what if angels are all about elitism, and their justice can be dubious?
Celeste has two surnames – Anant from her father and Semyaza from her mother. She belongs both to the world of Elect and the world of Fallen, but she is lucky, for despite having Fallen blood, she does not possess the Mark which would betray her as such. As a kid, she used to live with her Elect father, but now she is back in the world of Fallen, working in a gaming house as a dealer. Her sister, Mariel, sings there. However, she is not so lucky, for the Mark did not spare her.
On the holy day of Aventum Angelorum, when everybody is celebrating and the gaming house is rather busy, Celeste is dealing the cards as usual when suddenly the Virtues appear. Angels came to claim justice for a murder that was committed, and it looks like Mariel is the culprit. She is accused of killing an angel by way of cutting his manhood and is taken under arrest. Celeste does not expect any lenience from the Virtues when it comes to the Fallen. She cannot leave her sister to die – surely Mariel, with her gentle character, is innocent, and she needs her sister’s help and protection now more than ever. So, Celeste is going to fight for her sibling; she gets some help from the owner of the gaming house and even goes back to her former demon lord lover in order to reach the Virtues.
A trip to the Virtues’ office ends in Celeste being appointed her sister’s advocatus diaboli. She has less than 48 hours to find the proof – anything that would exonerate her sister. So Celeste begins to uncover truths about her sister’s life, and a lot of it is far from what Celeste believes about her sister. Besides, with every dig, she learns a few secrets of the angels’ life too.
Though structured as a quest to find the true murderer, I would say that this novella is a quest for oneself and one’s true path. It is a story about the demons of the past, which one takes for the truth when in fact, they are damaging. It is a story about the blinding effect of the family. It is a story of what it means to be looked down upon because you are marked.
The novella is very fast-paced. It really immerses you into the story and pulls you forward without letting you catch a breath. The scenes are described very vividly; there is always something happening to Celeste. At the same time, all the actions build a proper scaffolding for the themes of the story. While the timer counts down to zeros, the inside of the angels’ life and that of the Fallen is revealed, and we are given more food for thought.
My only problem with Tread of Angels was that I wished to see more of angels. Though Virtues are one of the angel ranks, they look and behave like ordinary people, and it was confusing for me at times when I tried to differentiate them from the Elect. The true winged and majestic angels were mentioned only once. I also wanted to find out more about the Elect and the Fallen – how they happened to be etc. Of course, the scope of the novella does not give the author enough space for that, and it would obviously slow the pace down, but it could be a nice touch.
However, the angels’ normalcy is definitely compensated by the demon side. Though Abraxas, Celeste’s demon lord, is but one, he is such an impressive figure that you catch the idea of a demon and what they are up to straight away. I also loved the steampunk addition of different mechanisms and automatons working on divinity.
All in all, the story does have good world-building and a sturdy plot with some dramatic moments at the very end. It also touches on the important topics of elitism, inferiority, family relations and clutching to the past. I would definitely recommend it.