BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a theologically oriented 21st Century, an excommunicated NYC cop learns that Angels are more, and less real, than commonly believed
PROS: A fascinating 21st century world. The scene-stealing and book-stealing characters of Mouse. The original book’s gorgeous cover art wonderfully re-used.
CONS: Some of the book feels a bit dated. Deidre is not quite as interesting as the cast of characters around her.
BOTTOM LINE: A first novel from Morehouse that still holds up, and has a chance to be read by a wider audience.
Back in 2001, on the far side of 9/11, I became aware of, thanks to a “Maiden Voyage award” from Barnes and Noble and mention in a quarterly publication of theirs highlighting upcoming books, a debut novelist named Lyda Morehouse. On the boundaries of SF and Fantasy, with a big helping of theology, I decided to give this book set in a 21st century New York a try, and ended up reading it and its sequels in short order.
Archangel Protocol, out of print for years, is back in eBook form thanks to Cheryl Morgan at Wizard Tower Press (http://wizardstowerpress.com/), details the story of Deidre McMannus, ex-cop turned private investigator. Its an election year in the late 21st century America. A terrible world war with devastating weapons has led to another resurgence in religious beliefs and fervor, to the point where religious affiliation, even perfunctory, is necessary to function well in society. Given that McMannus has been excommunicated, this makes her an outcast. And now Angels have been apparently appearing in the LINK, the 21st Century’s virtual reality development of the Internet. But are those Angels real? And what does Deidre’s former partner, who murdered a Pope, have to do with it? And who is the mysterious client that wants to hire Deirdre? And what of the Presidential candidate that claims to be chosen by God, but will not physically leave his mountaintop home?
The strengths of Archangel Protocol are many. I have mentioned before that a gripe I often have with Urban Fantasy is the lack of solid worldbuilding. Archangel Protocol is not really an Urban Fantasy (although that genre might try to claim it). It’s really more of hybrid of SF and Fantasy (or might be just theologically speculative SF). Either way, the world building of this universe is top notch. Progress does not always go in a straight line, and I found a world that in the wake of a global war with devastating weapons had turned back to God, firmly and solidly, to be plausible and well thought out. There is interesting technology here, not only the LINK, but some of the other toys we see. And of course the idea of a virtual agent modeled on a person, but possibly developing autonomy is an interesting one, giving us two versions of one character. I loved some of the characters we meet. Mouse, first and foremost, both himself and his virtual counterpart “Page”. Complicated, cunning and clever, every scene where either version of him appears was a delight and treat. Other secondary characters, from the Archangels to a transformed victim of a medusa bomb, are all well done, too. Deidre is a good, solid character with a character arc, development, and depth.
We also get a sense of place with this transformed New York City. 2070’s New York is both a place familiar to me as an expat New Yorker, and utterly transformed and alien, thanks to the rise of skyway-like structures (a clear nod to the author’s home in Minneapolis), the fall of the subway system, and the areas of New York now a no-go zone thanks to the aftereffects of Medusa Bomb strikes.
It’s a gorgeous cover, too. I remember years ago that the cover was a deciding factor for me to try the book. I’m very pleased that the e-book retains that original cover art.
The downsides? The secondary characters that Morehouse creates steal the show, especially Mouse. Both versions of him just take over the book and run gleefully into the night, casting Deidre into shadow. And then there are the Archangels, and Rebekah, and even some minor one-scene wonder characters all show Deidre up to some degree or another. It makes the book much more of an ensemble novel, even if our point of view is Deidre.
The other thing is a bit of datedness with the technological terms. The book was written in 2001, and in many ways feels like it was written in 2001. The technology itself has not dated badly, but some of the terms and the general feel of it have. Unlike, say, Diane Duane, Morehouse decided not to update her novel and released it as it is. Given that the book’s universe doesn’t seem to have had a 9/11 or a War on Terror (although plenty of *other* conflicts), the book might now be considered a future alternate history, technologically as well as politically and historically.
Lyda Morehouse has grown and developed as a talent in the years since Archangel Protocol, but when I discovered an ebook edition was out, I knew I had to return to that world, and see if it held up. Happily, for the memories of this reviewer, and for you readers who have not yet tried her work, the book holds up, and is very worth your time. There is a funny story about the tortured path to e-book publication that Lyda relates in the forward, but I can’t wait for the sequels to be similarly converted.