Dark Hope, by Monica McGurk, is the first installment in the Archangel Prophecies series. Like many other reviews for debut novels, I am struggling a little with my thoughts on the book. I enjoyed it enough that I am looking forward to reading the next one (or ones since as per goodreads, there are only two listed at the moment, but I am guessing there are plans for more). But I also would love to see a few things done slightly differently, as I think that would enhance my enjoyment of the books.
I will start by saying that this isn’t the most original – there are tons of YA stories centered around the love of an angel and a human girl. And most of them involve a plot involving fallen angels and the end of the world (or saving it). The human girl is always important to the saving or not saving. And the love is almost always taboo for some reason. Not being the most original isn’t a bad thing here. It is a tested formula. There are a bunch of great books that follow this same generic formula. Why fix something that isn’t broken. It works. It works when things are done right. And here, the story and the characters are interesting, easy to get to know, and for the most part well written.
A reader does need to just accept a few things though. In this, like many of the YA supernatural persuasion (it isn’t unique to the angel sub-genre, it’s common in the vampire, werewolf, demon sub-genres as well, just to name a few) you have to just let a few things go – take them for what they are and nothing more. For example the age difference. Let’s face it, in almost all of these one half (and it is typically the male half) of the intended couple is much older than the other. Like hundreds or thousands of years older. That, if you think about it too much, yields all sorts of creepy pedophile like comparisons. But its not like the person we are reading about takes on the attributes of a grown man. They have the thinks (and often knowledge) that makes them the supernatural being they are, but in all other ways they are teenagers too. They look like, and behave like, teenage boys. Any real focus on the age difference is really misplaced. Let’s face it, unless the pairing is always of two supernatural beings, who also happen to be about the same age, even a 200 year old supe and a 50 year old lady is cringe worthy when you focus on the age difference – so you have to take it with a grain of salt and just not focus on that.
When a prophecy is involved there will always be interpretation and mystery. There just will be. It’s the only way to keep the plot from being too obvious. The best crafters of prophecy layer it with subtleties (“The one to vanquish the dark lord…”) and the clumsier crafters, well that’s like a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin factory. And with the series being dubbed the “Archangel Prophecies”, you had better expect at least one prophecy and what I ‘ve seen so far places this on the subtle side but for me, it might be because of my complete unfamiliarity with the bible.
The parental units are not really going to be in the picture, or if they are, they aren’t going to be the typical (or real) parental unit. That’s just how it goes. The story can’t progress, the characters can’t disappear for days and do what ever they want, if the parental units are parenting. As in actually there. Staying out all night, leaving town to go to Las Vegas, being 13 and cooking your own dinner, staying out until 2 am, etc. just won’t happen when they are… well… normal. It has something to do with letting the characters come of age in the best way (or so I read in an article about why mothers are so often absent from Disney animated cartoons) or something like that. Although if you ask me, seeing a character punished by parents who are around, once in a while might be interesting!
It is totally a thing to shift perspectives. And, often, without real warning (sometimes the chapters have headers that announce this, sometimes not).
Finally, you just need to accept that it isn’t all going to make sense all the time, and it isn’t always going to be the most original thing you read that day. Especially with so many authors who have stepped from fan-fiction to publication. On the positive side, this is one of the best results of that step that I have seen. And trust me, there are some awful attempts to take that step put there. While there is room for improvement, this doesn’t have the glaringly awful grammatical issues or editing issues that many of my recent reads have. And that was a refreshing thing. Just keep in mind, it is much harder to be really original when things start out as fan fiction.
If you can accept those limitations, and those of this sub-genre in particular, then this should be a rather enjoyable little outing. As I mentioned, the characters were easy to get to know. What you need to know: We have Michael, as in the Archangel, and Hope. Hope was kidnapped as a child and ended up living with her father because he was convinced that Hope was still in danger. Then, as a teenager, she decides she wants to go live with her mother. She goes to school, for the first time, as a normal kid. And there she meets Michael. We don’t see a lot of the time they spend together, getting to know each other, but it is referenced quite a bit. So, even without all the page time, it is implied that they are really getting to know each other. That’s good – since I hate the superficial, based on nothing but looks, kind of love, especially in YA books (in the PNR its not as awful to me since those are more about the steamy scenes than the real relationship already). Then, it turns out that Hope is integral to a prophecy related to fallen angels recapturing heaven. And Michael wants to prevent the fallen from succeeding in the quest to get back into Heaven. The main protagonist’s lack of any real friends is also something different from the typical YA.
There were some unique elements despite the fact that the story is fairly familiar. For example, the thought applied to getting Hope away from her Mom is certainly new – and refreshing. They don’t just up and disappear without her mother calling the authorities. And it was a fairly elaborate way to keep Hope’s Dad out of trouble. The main protagonist’s lack of any real friends is also something different from the typical YA. So it felt like a fair balance between a standard overall story and some interesting details that made it different from the others like this that I have read.
The two things that I would love to have seen better done are the human trafficking sub-plot and Michael’s… mood swings and their implications. It is a shame because I know that the human trafficking plot elements are important to the author. But they felt a little distracting. That is, that sub-lot didn’t feel integral enough to the overall plot. It felt a little forced. In fact, had it not been part of the book I don’t think it would have had any impact. I am reminded of the moment Amy Farrah-Fowler spoils Raiders of the Lost Ark for Sheldon, telling him that it would have ended exactly the same way had Indy not been involved. That’s sort of the same way I feel here – without the human trafficking element, there would have been basically no difference in the overall plot. And it pains me to say this because I know the author is passionate about stopping human trafficking. But, if it is going to follow us through the next book(s), hopefully it will be better integrated and won’t feel so forced.
The other issue relates to the dynamic between Michael and Hope. Hi is totally obsessive and nasty and she plays right into it, letting jealousy impact her actions, and that in turn enrages him. It’s a vicious cycle that the two are stuck in and it is all the more disturbing to see Michael, and archangel for crying out load, be so down right mean and cold to her. I question both Hope and Michael’s actions, thoughts and interactions. It just doesn’t seem healthy. It feels a little like 50 Shades impacted writers – and in a really, really bad way. I don’t ever want to see the abuse (verbal or physical) just accepted, no matter what the reason, justification, or logic that applies because it is never ok. So, to route for Michael and Hope in future books, I for one will need to see this part of the relationship toned down significantly so that tension (which is different) doesn’t cross into abuse territory.
There has been a proliferation of angel stories into the YA genre, and there is a plethora of angel stories. But, that doesn’t change the fact that there was just enough to the story of Hope and Michael that I am looking forward to more of the Archangel Prophecies.