Monday, January 30, 2012

Tip of the Spear by Sean Daniel Shortwinter

Title: Tip of the Spear
Author: Sean Daniel Shortwinter
Rating: 4.5 stars

The Plot

Sabine is a member of Gods army – literally. After her death in Gotland in 988, she went to heaven where she eventually became an elite Evil Countermeasures angel, one of the greatest fighters in the war against hell. Sabine can go hand-to-hand with any of Lucifer’s agents and defeat them with graceful ease.

For 1,000 years, Sabine has been trying to earn her wings, and if she succeeds on her next mission, she will finally get them. But the mission isn’t quite what she’s used to. Instead of sending agents back to hell, she is tasked with keeping one person alive – a human teen girl named Vanessa. But this deceptively simple mission could prove to Sabine’s undoing because Vanessa’s father is at the center of hell’s most nefarious plot yet, and there is no way that Sabine is letting the demons win.

The Good

Tip of the Spear was a strange little novel (though it was really more medium-sized). I struggled with how to score it on a conventional scale, and eventually decided to give it 4.5 stars but not put it on my Quick Pick list. Because while it is an amazing novel in many ways, it defies genre too much for me to feel comfortable recommending it to the traditional YA paranormal/fantasy audience.

The novel featured a variety of characters of varying types. Some were original, like the narrator Sabine and the damned field medic Kocepk. Others were familiar, like the archangel Michael and the sensationalized murderess Lizzie Borden. Regardless of their source, they all had snappy dialogue that several times had me laughing out loud.

Sean Daniel Shortwinter has a strong knowledge of and interesting perspective on history, as well as familiarity with geography and current events. I’ve taken 2 Russian history classes, and I’d be hard-pressed to remember that Kyrgyzstan is a country, much less think to include it in a novel. He describes his battle scenes in painstaking detail, but like any good action story, the book also has a compelling plot.

The Bad

I think that the narrative structure could have been better thought out. About two-third of the book is told from Sabine’s first-person point of view, and the rest is from Kocepk’s third person point of view. This made it difficult to understand how much of a main character Kocepk was supposed to be, especially since he did not often interact with the main cast. In general, I am opposed to switching from first to third person; if there is more than one person telling the story, I prefer multiple first-person views or else straight third person. In this case, I think that trying to switch between first-person narrators while also trying to follow everything else that was going on might have made my head explode, so I would have recommended everything in third person. That might also have allowed us to see the story from a few other viewpoints, so we could have seen what some of the others were doing while separated from Sabine.

The other thing that didn’t quite feel right was the mythology of Sabine’s character development. She has been working for heaven for a thousand years as its best hand-to-hand fighter, but she does not yet have her wings, which makes me generally unsure what one must do to merit them. The concept of her starting to age because she was finally making friendships was not fully developed, and the less said about the chapter where she suddenly hits puberty and goes temporarily batshit insane the better.

The Romance

Alas, there was no romance in Sabine’s tale, unless you count the fact that she was running away from her own arranged wedding when her father beat her to death. Or the fact that the archangel Raphael and her friend Awair are both described as quite attractive. But, really, Sabine is too busy saving the world from nuclear Armageddon to take time out for romance, and as a citizen of the world, I appreciate that.

Will I read more?

I’m not sure if there are going to be more books in the series, but if there are, I will definitely be picking them up. Sabine and her cohorts end Tip of the Spear beginning their next adventure, and I could definitely see that spinning into another book. But I also have deep respect for the stand-alone novel and will consequently respect the author’s decision should he not stretch this out into a series.

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