Awful, confusing, incoherent Archon

I am baffled by all the excellent reviews. Are there 2 versions of this book out there and I have the version intended to bewilder and confuse? An angel I am told was male, but later that he/she/it is pregnant? A fairie is an angel? Angela is the Archon but not? She houses Raziel’s soul but doesn’t? And I still don’t know what the Ruin is…! It was a sign when I realized I was two weeks into this book and still only about 60% through it that I was not going to agree with all the positive reviews this book has been getting. I found myself re-reading entire chapters because I was so very totally confused. And unfortunately, there is no wiki page out there summarizing it in a coherent manner, with spoilers, so I can understand what I have read. I normally do that here on my blog, but I don’t even know where to start… I am confounded.

So that was what I was thinking a little more than half way though Archon by Sabrina Benulis. Unfortunately, it only got worse from there.  I read on the author’s website something about her wanting to mix a bunch of religious theory from Islam, Christianity, etc.  I am sad to say that while that idea is interesting, this author fell extraordinarily short of being able to execute on that in a decent and coherent way.  Don’t get me wrong, I read things that aren’t exactly great literature – all the time – so I am willing to leave certain expectations aside. But I at least expect to be able to follow the story. I am even willing to do some work to help track characters and multiple plot lines.  for example, Michael Scott’s the Alchmyst and sequels are really easier with a family tree handy and a blank sheet of paper to help you track timelines. But this… Wow, was it awful to try to read. The author keeps readers totally in the dark.  For the whole book. I kept waiting to get the rules of the universe, even if in piecemeal.  But that never really happens.

And while I can often forgive quite a bit in the plot department or with other things when the imagery is excellent, even that had holes big enough to drive a dump truck through.   All I really got out of the setting was that the story was set in a place run by the Vatican but not in our world’s Vatican. And it is a city called Lux which is dark and rainy and has issues with electricity. And how does the academy fit in?  Who really knows.  The connection isn’t really clear. It’s really all one big mess.

Then, in the forefront are these characters.  Some are angels, some demons, some witches, and if you want to know who is on which side?  Well, don’t ask me.  Because even after reading the end, I have no freaking clue.  We were really way to far in before we get any infusion of information that is helpful to figuring out what is going on in the story.

The main premise appears to be that Angela is the archon or so everyone thinks.  What is the archon?  That’s a really good question – the archon is the reincarnation of an angel.  I think.  Stephanie, the typical archnemesis to Angela (popular, angry, etc.) is the leader of a sorority which she leads partially through fear and partially because she is popular (or really, because she thinks she is the archon and she has made a deal with a demon).  She’s incredibly power-hungry.  Stephanie wants to prove that Angela is not the archon and so she sets up a test of sorts to prove it but it backfires when Angela ends up summoning another demon who finds a host in a another young lady.

We then finally meet the angel that Angela has always dreamed about. Then, chaos ensues.   Trying to figure out whether or not Angela really is the archon is the primary issue but there are a number of fairly distracting subplots having to do with some of the demons and the gin freeing some souls from hell whether or not those souls want to be freed.  How did I get there?  Heck if I know – but that’s basically what happened in the book too.

Then, there’s a lot of confusion having to do with the Fall.  I can’t remember the last time I read a book and I had to reread so much of it right away.  There were paragraphs, pages and chapters that I read and reread and reread again because it was incredibly difficult to figure out exactly what was going on it’s hard to say whether it was a matter of bad writing and grammar, bad character development, bad plot planning or what, because  there are elements of each of those throughout.  It was such an odd contrast then when all of a sudden the reader will come across some moments where the author has done a stunning job of giving me enough to build a picture in my mind but I want to have that picture throughout the entire book and that just didn’t happen.

Much of the characters dialogue hurts this book even more than the other issues.  Hard to believe, huh?  But the author doesn’t know how to do dialogue in a manner so as to make it easy to figure out which character is saying what.  And the flip-flops back-and-forth between not understanding who’s even speaking to these beautiful pictures and a very few moments of clarity left me scratching my head.

Reading this book took 10 times the amount of time it would normally take me to read something like that and that’s not a good sign.  It’s not like this was such an a great intellectual exercise that it left me pondering intelligent and theological questions. Instead, it was so difficult to read because it was such a confusing mass mixup of mythologies and there were places where the plot moves forward in inexplicable ways that it’s virtually impossible to understand what just happened.  Readers see action and what’s going on and then all of a sudden the characters are in completely different places with completely different things going on and the reader is really not sure how the characters ended up where they were, doing what they were doing or saying what they were saying.  Again, I was scratching my head.

Believe it or not, all this leads me to say that this was not exactly a terrible book.  I think it had some promise but it’s almost as if this was the author’s stream of consciousness and she never went back to reread it to see where her mind went.  As if she thought she had written things she didn’t, and as if she thought she explained things already so she skipped them later, even in summary, but yet it turned out she hadn’t.   There just there wasn’t a whole lot connect the dots that were littered throughout the story.

Not to mention I think I was four chapters in before it was explained what a blood head really was.   You can infer that they are people with red hair but in a world that is so similar and yet so different where we have a Vatican but we’re in some mysterious city called Lux and there’s black snow, clearly not everything is the same and so to make assumptions like that in a lot of ways really only lead to further confusion.

I have read a number of reviews which are very critical about the fact that the author has a suicidal protagonist and how that shouldn’t be because “what kind of role model is someone who’s suicidal”?  I’m not going to agree with those folks; they’re entitled to their opinion but I don’t believe every protagonist has to be a role model.  In some ways, it was a way to infuse some real emotion and real pain into the character – to recognize that not everyone lives a happy joy filled all-things-are-just-ducky kind of life.   This is the fantasy genre after all and while having role models is great in books sometimes that’s just not what the author wants out of out of her characters.  Since suicide is something that occurs in today’s world I think to ignore it and to leave characters like that out of the mainstream reading creates a false sense of well-being in society.  So, the one issue so many had with this book is apparently the one area where I won’t criticize.

All in all, this book was so confusing I am not sure, even with a page to remind me later, that I will be able to digest a second installment.  Because I really didn’t understand the first.  If you are looking for a book to skip in your “to read pile”, I say skip this one.

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