Book Review: From Men and Angels by H.L. Walsh

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been taken to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read From Men and Angels by H.L. Walsh is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Imagine a world where Angels and Demons are not just spiritual beings but physical beings we can see an interact with. How would that change our world? If humans fought alongside with and also against these titans; what kind of world would that be?

H.L. Walsh, author of From Men and Angels

Debut author H.L. Walsh answers his own question in his new book, From Men and Angels, chronicling the adventures of Malach, a hunter and son of an angel and Amara, an exiled thief living in a world of fully corporeal angels and demons. These two protagonists, despite their very disparate origins, come together in the city of Newaught where they are quickly caught up in an ancient war which has been silently raging between angels and demons for over two thousand years.

The world-building in this novel is excellent. The blending together of fantasy with real-world religious elements can be a tricky business but Walsh accomplishes this masterfully, creating a world which is vividly imagined, inspired by certain aspects of Christian theology without creating obvious allegories to patronise the reader or crude caricatures to offend the believer. Indeed, where most authors writing this type of story might be tempted to create allegorical ‘God figures’ and ‘Satan figures’ with different names, Walsh has taken the bold step to make specific references to God and Satan, as well as one more indirect reference to Christ. A risky move in some ways, but one which I feel has paid off.

Many fantasy authors create detailed and vivid fantasy worlds only to be let down by presenting them in a way which bogs the reader down with tedious descriptions of the world’s political, historical and geographical landscape and forcing the reader to constantly refer back to the map(s) on at the front of the book. From Men and Angels does not have this problem. Thanks to Walsh’s clear and direct writing style, the reader is fed a gentle and steady diet of everything they need to know about Walsh’s fantasy world in a way which feels natural and enjoyable to read without info dumping.

The characters in this story are, for the most part, all reasonably well rounded with clear motives driving their actions. Malach is a hunter with of unusual physical strength, owing to his angelic ancestry. All he wants is a quiet life of hunting in his home village, but his life is quickly turned upside down when it is revealed that his parents are alive in a demon prison and that he personally has a crucial role to play (for some reason?) in the coming conflict between the Angels and Demons. In some ways, he’s a little bit typical for a fantasy hero: strong, solitary, plagued by demons and reluctant to follow the call of his destiny. He is accompanied throughout the story by his friend, Daziar and his wolf, Skie.

As much as I liked Malach, I liked the Amara character just a little bit more. She seemed just a shade or two more complex than Malach, more driven by her own needs rather than having other characters popping out of the woodwork and telling her about her destiny. My only real criticism of this character was how she responded to Malach. Given the life she has lived until this point, it struck me as more than a little odd that, in her darkest hour, a streetwise thief like Amara would turn to a relative stranger (not to mention a natural enemy) simply because she finds him attractive and perhaps a little mysterious.

There’s one more character I’d like to mention: Malach’s sword, Reckoning. It’s an angel blade: a living weapon Malach liberates from a demon early in the story, with a personality all of its own, which is a fascinating concept in and of itself. When Malach first acquires this weapon, he is cautious, fearful of its ability to read his thoughts. In spite of this, he quickly comes to trust Reckoning and the reader is left wondering if Reckoning really is to be trusted. Having now finished the book, the short answer seems to be: yes, Reckoning is exactly who he claimed to be. In some respects, that was a bit of an anticlimax. There’s nothing wrong with Reckoning being a good guy as such, but it might have been nice to find a few darker shades to Reckoning’s character or even just to learn that he does have a few secrets or agendas of his own. Having said that, I’m also conscious that this is only the first book in the series so you never know what’s still to come!

I don’t have many seriously bad things to say about this book. If I was being hypercritical, I would say the romantic subplot is this story’s biggest let-down. There’s nothing wrong with the idea behind it or the basic path it follows but the execution felt a bit rushed and sloppy. The two characters don’t meet until fairly near the end of the book, which is fine, however the circumstances of their meeting don’t naturally lend themselves to the kind of relationship which develops between them. Amara, having just lost everything and having no where else to go, decides to go looking for this guard (Malach) whom she barely knows and who has every reason to arrest her. When she finds his house (through educated guesswork, I might add) she breaks in and after a rather tense encounter, the two quickly become as a thick as thieves to the extent that she goes out hunting with him and joins him on a dangerous quest to liberate his father from a demon prison. That just didn’t seem natural or believable to me, especially not while both characters were pre-occupied with their own issues.

All in all, From Men and Angels is a strong debut and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series. The premise of a world with flesh and blood angelic forces is simple but fascinating and I was chomping at the bit to read it from the moment I heard about it. I was not disappointed. Well imagined, well written and with plenty of excitement; its few and minor let-downs were not nearly enough to stop this being a great read and a real page turner. If high fantasy with respectful and non-preachy religious elements is your thing, be sure to grab a copy of this book with my fullest blessing. It’s great.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Keep an eye out for my author interview with H.L. Walsh — coming soon!


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Writing Religious Fiction: An Introduction

To talk about ‘religious fiction’ is to discuss a very broad category of fiction. There are so many different religions and so many different sub-genres of religious fiction within each belief system that it is difficult to encapsulate them all in a single discussion (I was actually planning a series on the subject initially and I may yet come back and write that series in the new year). To be clear, I am not going to focus on any particular religious beliefs in this post, nor am I going to use this platform to propound my own beliefs, important as they are to me. My goal, as always on this website, is to focus on how to write a good story with a religious theme, whatever that religion may be (including atheism, if we can define it that way) and to be as sensitive as possible to the multivarious beliefs out there. That being said, I do have particular beliefs of my own, so I hope you’ll bear with me while I try to navigate these tricky waters.

The first and best tip I can give for writing religious fiction is this: don’t set out to write religious fiction. Most books I’ve read under the heading ‘religious fiction’ tend to be woefully awful stories (except for Ben-Hur; there’s a reason it’s endured all these years and been made into a movie more than once). Write a good story while remaining true to what you believe in. As with any other theme, if your goal from the beginning is to write a Christian romance or an Islamic spy thriller, you’ll end up writing a story simply to prove a particular point. There are two glaring problems with this approach:

  1. This won’t yield a very good story. It will yield, at best, a thinly disguised sermon. More on that here.
  2. A work of fiction can’t really prove anything, since you can make anything happen in your story just the way you want it to. You can make hardened Darwinist characters become creationists or born again Christian characters become hardened Atheists. Heck, you could make a homosexual Muslim couple convert to Christianity and start a side business in fortune telling after they have a vision of Krishna. It’s all just fiction. The fact you can make it up does not prove it to be true or laudable and readers of any religious persuasion will not be fooled if you contrive a fictional situation to prove a particular doctrine.

The first and best tip I can give for writing religious fiction is this: don’t set out to write religious fiction.

If we’re being honest, writing fiction with a religious theme is a far more simple matter than we imagine. The usual rules apply: start with your characters. Give them strengths and give them weaknesses. Give them motives, give them goals and give them a stinking great problem to overcome.

If you want religion to be a central theme, you can always make religion part of the conflict (e.g.: crises of faith, suffering persecution, etc) but for goodness sake, don’t just make it the solution to the central conflict (e.g. Bob fancies Lucy so he prays about it and they get married). There is, however, an even better approach than this.

Take Ben-Hur, for instance. Ben-Hur is, for the most part, a story of a Jewish man trying to avenge himself against his Roman enemies and trying to find out the fate of his mother and sister, whom he had believed to be dead. It is only in the course of this that occasional encounters with Jesus nudge him, little by little, towards a faith which he fully embraces in the concluding pages of the book after the main conflict has been resolved. So let the theme emerge naturally and develop it exactly as you would for any other type of fiction. The truth as you see it will shine through in anything you write.

I would also be very, very, very cautious about including God, or whatever other power you may believe in, as an active character in your story. The only exception I would make would be if you were lifting a particular theophany directly from an established religious canon (e.g. you might have Moses meeting God on Sinai or Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus). There are a few reasons for this, but there are two biggies I can think of:

  1. As before, it becomes very easy to ‘prove’ any point you want simply by having God appear in your story and affirm it to be so. However, your readers aren’t stupid. God didn’t write your novel. You wrote it, and you aren’t God. Putting words into a deity’s mouth will only patronise and annoy your readers. If you make God do or say something which he hasn’t done or said in the established canon of your religion, then it is a made up thing. You have left religious fiction behind and have started writing a crude fantasy.
  2. If God or gods should appear in your story you are in severe danger of the dreaded deus ex machina, where a story’s conflict is not resolved as much as it is simply set aside with a simple miracle.

On the subject of deus ex machina, beware of miracles. Miracles might be something you believe in, but they don’t work well in fiction. If your characters simply pray and their problems get fixed, you’ve still created a deus ex machina ending and that’s bad writing in any genre.

Also one more thing: remember to be objective and respectful. Don’t create unfair caricatures of other belief systems, nor unjustly exalt practitioners of your own religion above others. Show the real world in all its ugly truthfulness or else you run the risk of writing hollow propaganda, which will fool no one.

I realise this has been a bit of a whistle-stop tour of how to write religious fiction and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface today. Maybe I will write that series in the near future. We shall see! Until next time… !


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here: