Where Angels Fear to Tread
Thomas E. Sniegoski
304 pp. Roc. $14.00
Pub. Date: 3/2/2010
Let’s get biblical, let’s talk about Angels. And not the ones with baseball mitts on their hands and a Rally Monkey on their back. No, these Angels play for another team, Heaven’s Sluggers, owned and managed by the Big Divinity himself; it’s the team most Angels spend their entire career with. Forget free agency, no team can offer bigger bucks or higher visibility. But maybe an enterprising angel decides they want to try humanity on like a pair of pressed khaki Dockers, burying their angelic nature under the threadbare cloak of mortality. Turning in their wings to become human and putting their halo six feet under.
Almost. They still get to keep their wings along with some pretty nifty parlor tricks, their heavenly DNA corked up like a genie in a bottle, waiting to be unleashed. Then maybe a day comes along when they find themselves in an unpalatable situation, when danger’s about to French kiss them, and they pull the cork, effectively releasing two tons of Heaven’s fury up alongside danger’s head, sending it whimpering and scuttling back into a dark corner.
And like the genie, the angel loves being free, loves being in control, its desire for freedom burning hot with Napalm intensity. And once the angel has had a little tasty-taste of heaven’s power, it doesn’t want to be put back in the bottle, doesn’t want to be stuck in a dead end job with humanity as their boss. Nobody puts this baby in the corner. Yet back in the bottle it goes. Sometimes. Because it takes a strong man to put the angel down.
A man like Remy Chandler, the world’s second favorite Remy after that Martin character. An angel slumming in the guise of humanity. And what does an earthbound, humanity-embracing angel do for a career? Why become a detective; solve cases, find missing people. Or more specifically, handle cases that border on the weird and tiptoe through the mythological; cases no cop or other detective could comprehend.
Like his latest case: a sick young girl abducted by her father; her mother desperate for Remy’s help. But Zoe isn’t like normal six year olds, she has the special ability to foresee the future, documenting her visions with a box of Crayolas and paper. Including a drawing of the man who will try to save her, a man with wings, a man that can only be Remy Chandler.
Where Angels Fear to Tread is a fast-paced, detective noir fantasy, both refreshingly gritty and imaginative, a dark realism mixed with intriguing fantastical elements. Realism and urban fantasy aren’t often bedmates, but author Thomas E. Sniegoski gets them to cohabitate in Where Angels Fear to Tread. If angels really wore a human guise, Remy Chandler acts and thinks like you’d probably imagine. Sniegoski’s ability to ground his fantastical narrative in a somewhat believable reality is well-executed, right up their with Charlie Huston’s fantastic work in the Joe Pitt series. It’s an exciting noir-flavored world with a grittiness that feels like chomping on sandpaper, a beautifully crafted world that I’d definitely like to revisit.
Sniegoski cribs freely from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files playbook, though he amps up the violence and cuts much of the humor. Chuckles are rare, while the atmosphere is dark and brooding. The detective aspects of the story were underwhelming; Remy’s case is just too straightforward and linear. There really wasn’t much to it, nothing that dropped your jaw on the floor or made you check your undergarments. I would have loved a better mystery at the heart of the novel; it’s just not there.
Make no mistake, Where Angels Fear to Tread is a solid fantasy noir with nice characterization and an intriguing pseudo-realistic urban fantasy feel. It’s just missing that story that punches you in the face, the one that shocks and offends you. Missing the story that spits in your eye and steals all your lunch money while cackling evilly; a nasty, brutish devil of a narrative. Because every angel needs a demon to cause trouble and give them a hell of a time. Remy sure could have used one here.
Final Grade: 70 out of 100