Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Wow, was I ever surprised by this book, an angel book...that I actually enjoyed! And here, I think, is why I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand, tells the story of Clara, a quarter angel. But here's the difference between her and other angels I've read about in other novels. Clara isn't a reincarnation. She isn't a teen who's really thousands of years old. She isn't a supernatural being who has immediate access to God. Her family doesn't even go to church. She's basically a mostly regular teenage girl who, because she is part angel, has one purpose to fulfill on earth, and when she's done it, supposedly, she can go on with her mortal life. I liked this version of the angel. I can't buy the angel who's lived previous lives and is trying to figure out who she is. I can't identify with that even one bit.

I generally have a hard time with the concept of angels in fiction. For one, I believe angels are real beings, unlike vampires or werewolves. And because of their position with God in reality, I have a hard time reading fiction in which angels seem to have all these kick-butt powers but aren't really in tune with God. Unearthly is different because Clara is only partially descended from angels. Her mom is half angel. Her dad is human, making her a quarter angel. Eventually, if her descendants kept marrying humans, the angel line would practically die out. It seems more realistic in some ways. It seems doable. After all, the Bible does talk about the sons of God sleeping with women, which some translate to mean angels and humans interbreeding. Clara's world is based on a real concept but far enough removed from reality that I can buy Clara like I can buy a vampire. So, all that to say, Unearthly works.

As for the plot, I found it entertaining with lovable characters. Clara's purpose is revealed to her in partial visions. The visions seem to indicate she will save a boy from Wyoming, so her family moves from California. But the boy from the vision isn't all that interested in getting to know Clara, and another boy is. Clara is torn between her heart and her purpose, but for a little while, she is able to enjoy just being human. The humanity of Clara and her family helps this book a lot.

Because this is a secular book, albeit about angels, I wasn't too bothered by the lack of faith and belief in the story. God is mentioned, of course. Clara doesn't know what she believes about him, but her friends go to church. Clara is mostly human with superpowers, so I'm not bothered about her lack of communion with God anymore than I would be with a fully human character. If they were real, it would bother me. In secular fiction, I don't expect to find faith. This is another reason angel books tend to repel me, because the very concept of an angel begs the question of faith. But this book feels at least a degree removed from a full angel book, and that somehow made it easier to accept as fiction.

I genuinely liked Unearthly, and I am looking forward to reading its sequel whenever it may come out. Three stars for being an angel book, but four stars for being good anyway.

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