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Jovah's Angel

An interview with:
Sharon Shinn

The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn
(Ace, $13.95, PG) ISBN 0-441-00505-5
The Alleluia Files completes Sharon Shinn's trilogy set on the planet of Samaria, home to mortals and angels. Archangel told the story of the Archangel Gabriel and his destined lifemate, the strong-willed Rachel. Jovah's Angel picked up the story thread a hundred years later, as the shy angel Alleluia fulfilled an unusual destiny with the help of her mortal love, Caleb Augustine. The Alleluia Files offers the story of twin sisters one angel, one mortal separated at birth and destined to change Samaria forever.

As the story opens, we meet Tamar, a young woman with no family. She is a member of the Jacobite sect, a group of people who believe that the god Jovah is, in fact, a spaceship orbiting the planet and programmed to respond to aural signals. This is heresy to the angels, of course, and the Jacobites have been systematically persecuted by the current Archangel, the power-hungry Bael.

Tamar is attempting to help a friend smuggle himself aboard a cargo ship bound for the distant continent of Ysral, the one place where the Jacobites have found some measure of peace. To disguise her identity, Tamar submits to having a crystal, called Jovah's Kiss, inserted in her arm as all good Samarians do when they are children. Her friend is discovered and Tamar is on the run for her life.

Meanwhile, at the annual Gloria, the angel Jared wonders what the hell Bael and his oily son Omar are up to. Bael is nearing the end of his term as Archangel, and Jovah has not yet indicated who will be the successor. Jared's attention is captured by a new angel, Lucinda, who has come to the Gloria with her aunt and is a virtual unknown to the rest of the angel assembly. Lucinda's spectacular voice arouses immediate speculation. It turns out she is the love child of an angel and a mortal woman who was a Jacobite.

Tamar makes her way to an appointed rendezvous spot for the Jacobites only to find twelve people dead and one badly hurt. When Jared arrives to investigate disturbing rumors of Jacobite persecution by Bael's henchmen, he is shocked at the carnage and intrigued by the prickly Tamar. He listens to her theories regarding Jovah and offers to help her search for the Alleluia Files, records supposedly left by the long-dead Archangel who was said to have visited the god himself. She soon flees, unable to trust him or the help he offers.

Lucinda, returning to her island home with her elderly aunt, finds her attention drawn to a handsome sailor whose beliefs parallel that of the Jacobites. Not having been raised in an angel hold, Lucinda is open to finding out the truth, whatever it may be, and is instrumental in saving the ship from an attack by Bael's thugs.

Eventually, Lucinda's and Tamar's paths cross and their background is revealed (which will come as no big surprise to the reader). Jared is reunited with Tamar, too, and this time he won't let her out of his site for long. The Kiss in his arm signals her presence. It also signals a destiny that Tamar is unwilling to recognize yet. But in Tamar, the indolent Jared finds something worth dying for.

I found The Alleluia Files to be intriguing and slightly annoying at the same time. Intriguing because Shinn is a master at the craft of building a world and immersing the reader in it. I felt like a Samarian myself. Annoying because the "parallel story lines" structure has the effect of jerking the reader out of the story at crucial moments, and putting everything on hold in order to find out what the other sister is doing. This happens time and again and for readers who like to get immersed in a story, it may prove frustrating.

The plot is fairly complex. Be prepared to read carefully this is no light novel. But you'll be rewarded, especially if you've journeyed to Samaria with Shinn's other books. The final resolution leaves Samaria right where it ought to be.

Now for the tone. It's grim in places, matching the industrial society that Samaria is becoming. Tamar is a fanatic, plain and simple. She's more than willing to die for the only cause that brings meaning to her life, and her budding romance with Jared struck me as a bit unbelievable. He seems drawn to her only because she is the antithesis of the giggling, angel-struck young ladies who usually hang all over him. She, for her part, runs away from him every chance she gets. They spend very little time getting to know each other, so his declaration of love didn't seem to have much depth to it.

Lucinda and her lover, the sailor Reuben, fare better. Reuben is strictly a beta hero; gentle, intelligent, and sensitive. It's easy to see why he and the inexperienced Lucinda would be a good match, and Shinn allows us the luxury of seeing them interact outside the arena of crisis. These two actually hold conversations and get to know one another, an element that might have strengthened the romance between Tamar and Jared.

The Alleluia Files is a shift from the character-driven stories found in the first two books of the trilogy, but it suits the industrial Samaria in its focus on plot. Samaria is a place where machines will soon be doing most of the work, and angels will have to carve a new niche in society. This was an interesting, well-written tale and fans of Shinn's earlier works owe it to themselves to have a look. It just didn't lift me up quite as high as the first two stories did.

--Cathy Sova

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