—Booklist (starred review)
A New York Times bestseller and global sensation, Angelology unfurled a brilliant tapestry of myth and biblical lore on our present-day world and plunged two star-crossed heroes into an ancient battle against mankind’s greatest enemy: the fatally attractive angel-human hybrids known as the Nephilim. With Angelopolis, the conflict deepens into an inferno of danger and passion unbound.
A decade has passed since Verlaine saw Evangeline alight from the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of her new wings a betrayal that haunts him still. Now an elite angel hunter for the Society of Angelology, he pursues his mission with single-minded devotion: to capture, imprison, and eliminate her kind.
But when Evangeline suddenly appears on a twilit Paris street, Verlaine finds her nature to be unlike any of the other creatures he so mercilessly pursues, casting him into a spiral of doubt and confusion that only grows when she is abducted before his eyes by a creature who has topped the society’s most-wanted list for more than a century. The ensuing chase drives Verlaine and his fellow angelologists from the shadows of the Eiffel Tower to the palaces of St. Petersburg and deep into the provinces of Siberia and the Black Sea coast, where the truth of Evangeline’s origins—as well as forces that could restore or annihilate them all—lie in wait.
Conceived against an astonishing fresh tableau of history and science, Angelopolis plumbs Russia’s imperial past, modern genetics, and ancient depictions of that most potent angelic appearance—the Annunciation of Gabriel—in a high-octane tale of abduction, treasure seeking, and divine warfare as the fate of humanity once again hangs in the balance.
The scientist examined the girl, his fingers pressing into her skin. She felt his touch against her shoulder blades, the knobs of her spine, the flat of her back. The movements were deliberate, clinical, as if he expected to find something wrong with her—a thirteenth rib or a second spine growing like an iron track alongside the original. The girl’s mother had told her to do as the scientist asked, and so she endured the prodding in silence: When he twisted a tourniquet around her arm she did not resist; when he traced the sinuous path of her vein with the tip of a needle she held still; when the needle slid under skin, and a rush of blood filled the barrel of the syringe, she pressed her lips together until she could no longer feel them. She watched the sunlight fall through the windows, blessing the sterile room with color and warmth, and felt a presence watching over her, as if a spirit had descended to guard her.
As the scientist filled three vials with blood, she closed her eyes and thought of her mother’s voice. Her mother liked to tell her stories of enchanted kingdoms and sleeping beauties and brave knights ready to fight for good; she spoke of gods who transformed into swans and beautiful boys who blossomed into flowers and women who grew into trees; she whispered that angels existed on earth as well as in heaven, and that there were some people who, like the angels, could fly. The girl always listened to these stories, never quite knowing if they were true. But there was one thing she did believe: In every fairy tale, the princess woke and the swan transformed back into Zeus and the knight overcame evil. In a moment, with a wave of a wand or the casting of a spell, the nightmare ended and a new era began.The First Circle
Allée des Refuzniks, Eiffel Tower, seventh arrondissement, Paris, 2010
V.A. Verlaine pushed through the barrier of gendarmes, making his way toward the body. It was nearly midnight, the neighborhood deserted, and yet the entire perimeter of the Champ de Mars—from the quai Branly to the avenue Gustave Eiffel—had been blocked by police cars, the red and blue lights pulsing through the darkness. A floodlight had been set up in a corner of the scene, the harsh illumination revealing a mutilated body resting in a pool of electric blue blood. The features of the victim were unreadable, the body broken and bloodied, her arms and legs angling at unnatural positions like branches cracked from a tree. The phrase “ripped to shreds” passed through Verlaine’s mind.
He had studied the creature as it died, watching the wings unfold over its body. He’d watched it shiver with pain, listening to its sharp, animal grunts as they dulled to a weak whine. The wounds were severe—a deep cut to the head and another to the chest—and yet it seemed that the creature would never stop struggling, that its determination to survive was endless, that it would fight on and on, even as blood seeped over the ground in a thick dark syrup. Finally, a milky film had fallen over the creature’s eyes, giving it the vacant stare of a lizard, and Verlaine knew the angel had died at last.
As he looked over his shoulder, his jaw grew tense. Beyond the ring of police stood every variety of creature—a living encyclopedia of beings who would kill him if they knew he could see them for what they were. He paused, assuming the cold, appraising position of a scholar as he cataloged the creatures in his mind: There were congregations of Mara angels, the beautiful and doomed prostitutes whose gifts were such a temptation to humans; Gusian angels, who could divine the past and the future; the Rahab angels, broken beings who were considered the untouchables of the angelic world. He could detect the distinguishing features of Anakim angels—the sharp fingernails, the wide forehead, the slightly irregular skeletal structure. He saw it all with a relentless clarity that lingered in his mind even as he turned back to the frenzy surrounding the murder. The victim’s blood had begun to seep past the contours of the floodlight, oozing into the shadows. He tried to focus upon the ironwork of the Eiffel Tower, to steady himself, but the creatures consumed his attention. He could not take his eyes off their wings fluttering against the inky darkness of the night.
Verlaine had discovered his ability to see the creatures ten years before. The skill was a gift— very few people could actually see angel wings without extensive training. As it turned out, Verlaine’s flawed vision—he had worn glasses since the fifth grade and could hardly see a foot in front of himself without them—allowed light into the eye in exactly the right proportion for him to see the full spectrum of angel wings. He’d been born to be an angel hunter.
Now Verlaine could not block out the colored light rising around the angelic creatures, the fields of energy that separated these beings from the flat, colorless spaces occupied by humans. He found himself tracking them as they moved around the Champ de Mars, noting their movements even while wishing to shut out their hallucinatory pull. Sometimes he was sure that he was going crazy, that the creatures were his personal demons, that he lived in a custom- made circle of hell in which an endless variety of devils were paraded before him, as if amassed for the purpose of taunting and torturing him.
But these were the kinds of thoughts that could land him in a sanitarium. He had to be careful to keep his balance, to remember that he saw things at a higher frequency than normal people, that his gift was something he must cultivate and protect even as it hurt him. Bruno, his friend and mentor, the man who had brought him from New York and trained him as an angel hunter, had given him pills to calm his nerves, and although Verlaine tried to take as few as possible, he found himself reaching for an enamel box in his jacket pocket and tapping out two white pills.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned. Bruno stood behind him, his expression severe. “The cuts are indicative of an Emim attack,” he said under his breath.
“The charred skin confirms that,” Verlaine said. He unbuttoned his jacket—vintage yellow 1970s polyester sport coat of questionable taste—and stepped close to the body. “Does it have any kind of identification?”
His mentor removed a wallet, its pale suede stained with blood, and began to sort through it. Suddenly Bruno’s expression changed. He held up a plastic card.
Verlaine took the card. It was a New York driver’s license with a photo of a woman with black hair and green eyes. His heart beat hard in his chest as he realized that it belonged to Evangeline Cacciatore. He took a deep breath before turning back to Bruno.
“Do you think this could really be her?” Verlaine said, watching his boss’s expression carefully. He knew that everything—his relationship with Bruno, his connection to the Angelogical Society, the course of his life from that point forward—would depend upon how he handled himself in the next ten minutes.
“Evangeline is a human woman; this is a blue-blooded Nephil female,” Bruno replied, nodding toward the bloody corpse between them. “But be my guest.”
Verlaine slid his fingers between the buttons of the victim’s trench coat, his hands trembling so hard he had to steady himself to make out the shape of her shoulders. The features of the woman were utterly unrecognizable.
He remembered the first time he had seen Evangeline. She had been both beautiful and somber at once, looking at him with her large green eyes as if he were a thief come to steal their sacred texts. She had been suspicious of his motives and fierce in her determination to keep him out. Then he made her laugh and her tough exterior had crumbled. That moment between them had been burned into him, and no matter how he tried, he had never been able to forget Evangeline. It had been over a decade since they had stood together in the library at St. Rose Convent, books open before them, both of them unaware of the true nature of the world. “There were Giants on the Earth in those days, and after.” These words, and the woman who showed them to him, had changed his life.
He hadn’t told anyone the truth about Evangeline. Indeed, no one knew that she was one of the creatures. For Verlaine, keeping Evangeline’s secret had been an unspoken vow: He knew the truth, but he would never tell a soul. It was, he realized now, the only way to remain faithful to the woman he loved.
Verlaine tucked the driver’s license into his pocket and walked away.
McDonald’s, avenue des Champs-Élysées, first arrondissement, Paris
Paris was full of angelologists and, as such, one of the most dangerous places in the universe for an Emim angel like Eno, who had a tendency toward recklessness. Like the rest of her kind, she was tall and willowy, with high cheekbones, full lips, and gray skin. She wore heavy black eye makeup, red lipstick, and black leather, and often wore her black wings openly, unafraid, daring angelologists to see them. The gesture was considered an act of provocation, but Eno didn’t have any intention of hiding. This would be their world soon. The Grigoris had promised her this.
Even so, there were angelologists lurking everywhere in Paris— scholars who looked like they hadn’t left the Academy of Angelology’s archive in fifty years, overzealous initiates taking photographs of whatever creature they could find, angelological biologists looking for samples of angelic blood, and, worst of all as far as Eno was concerned, the teams of angel hunters out to arrest all angelic creatures. These idiots often mistook Golobiums for Emim and Emim for the more pure creatures like the Grigoris. Hunters seemed to be on every corner lately, watching, waiting, ready to take their prey into custody. For those who could detect the hunters, life in Paris was merely inconvenient. For those who could not, each movement through the city was a deadly game.
Of course Eno had strict rules of engagement, and her first and most important rule was to leave the risk of being captured to others. After she had killed Evangeline, she’d removed herself from the scene quickly and walked on the Champs-Élysées, where nobody would think to look for her. She understood that sometimes it was best to hide in plain sight.
Eno folded her hands around the Styrofoam cup, taking in the ceaseless motion of the Champs-Élysées. She would be going back to her masters as soon as possible now that her work in Paris was finished. She’d been assigned to find and kill a young female Nephil. She’d tracked the creature for weeks, watching her, learning her patterns of behavior. She’d become curious about her target. Evangeline was unlike any other Nephil she had seen before. According to her masters, Evangeline was a child of the Grigori, but she had none of the distinguishing characteristics of an angel of her lineage. She had been raised among regular people, had been abandoned by the Nephilim, and—from everything that Eno had observed— was dangerously sympathetic to the ways of humanity. The Grigoris wanted Evangeline dead. Eno never let her masters down.
And they, she was certain, would not let her down either. The Grigoris would take her home to Russia, where she would blend into the masses of Emim angels. In Paris, she was too conspicuous. Now that her work was done, she wanted to leave this dangerous and loathsome city.
She’d learned the dangers of Parisian angelologists the hard way. Many years ago, when she was young and naïve to the ways of humans, she had nearly been killed by an angelologist. It had been the summer of 1889, during the Paris World’s Fair, and people had flooded into the city to see the newly erected Eiffel Tower. She strolled through the fair and then ventured into the throngs in the fields nearby. Unlike many Emim, she adored walking among the lowly beings that populated Paris, loved to have coffee in their cafés and walk in their gardens. She liked to be drawn into the rush of human society, the exuberant energy of their futile existence.
In the course of her stroll, she noticed a handsome English soldier staring at her from across the Champ de Mars. They’d spoken for some minutes about the fair, then he took her by the arm and led her past the crowds of foot soldiers, the prostitutes and scavengers, past the carriages and horses. From his soft voice and gentlemanly manner, she assumed him to be more elevated than most human beings. He held her hand gently, as if she were too delicate to touch, all the while examining her with the care of a jeweler appraising a diamond. Human desire was something she found fascinating—its intensity, the way love controlled and shaped their lives. This man desired her. Eno found this amusing. She could still recall his hair, his dark eyes, the dashing figure he cut in his suit and hat.
She tried to gauge whether the man recognized her for what she was. He led her away from the crowds, and when they were alone behind a hedge, he looked into her eyes. A change came over him— he’d been gentle and amorous, and now a wash of violence infused his manner. She marveled at his transformation, the changeable nature of human desire, the way he could love and hate her at once. Suddenly the man withdrew his dagger and lunged at her. “Beast,” he hissed, as he thrust the blade at Eno, his voice filled with hatred. Eno reacted quickly, jumping aside, and the knife missed its mark: Instead of her heart, the soldier sliced a gash across her shoulder, cutting through her dress and into her body, leaving the flesh to fold away from her bone like a piece of lace. Eno had turned on him with force, crushing the bones of his throat between her fingers until his eyes hardened to pale stones. She pulled him behind the trees and destroyed all traces of what she had found beautiful in him: His lovely eyes, his skin, the delicate fleshy curl of his ear, the fingers that had—only minutes before—given her pleasure. She took the man’s peacoat and draped it over her shoulders to hide her injury. What she couldn’t hide was her humiliation.
The cut had healed, but she was left with a scar the shape of a crescent moon. Every so often she would stand before a mirror examining the faint line, to remind herself of the treachery that humans were capable of performing. She realized, after reading an account in the newspaper, that the man was an angelologist, one of the many English agents in France in the nineteenth century. She had been led into a trap. Eno had been tricked.
This man was long dead, but she could still hear his voice in her ear, the heat of his breath as he called her a beast. The word beast was embedded in her mind, a seed that grew in her, freeing her from every restraint. From that moment on her work as a mercenary began to please her more and more with each new victim. She studied the angelologists’ behavior, their habits, their techniques of hunting and killing angelic beings until she knew her work in and out. She could smell a hunter, feel him, sense his desire to capture and slaughter her. Sometimes she even let them bring her into custody. Sometimes she even let them act out their fantasies with her. She let them take her to their beds, tie her up, play with her, hurt her. When the fun was over, she killed them. It was a dangerous game, but one she controlled.
Eno slid on a pair of oversize sunglasses, the lenses black and bulbous. She rarely went outside without them. They disguised her large yellow eyes and her unnaturally high cheekbones—the most distinct Emim traits—so that she looked like a human female. Leaning back in her chair, she stretched her long legs and closed her eyes, remembering the terror in Evangeline’s face, the resistance of the flesh as she slid her nails under the rib cage and ripped it open, the frisson of surprise Eno had felt upon seeing the first rush of blue blood spill onto the pavement. She had never killed a superior creature before, and the experience went against everything she had been trained to do. She had expected a fight worthy of a Nephil. But Evangeline had died with the pathetic ease of a human woman.
Her phone vibrated in her pocket, and as she reached for it, she checked the crowds walking by, her gaze flicking from humans to angels. There was only one person who used that number, and Eno needed to be certain that she could speak privately. Emim were bound by their heritage to serve Nephilim, and for years, she had simply done her duty, working for the Grigoris out of gratitude and fear. She was of a warrior caste and she accepted this fate. She wanted to do little else but to experience the slow diminishing of a life, the final gasping for breath of her victims.
Fingers trembling, she took the call. She heard her master’s raspy, whispery voice, a seductive voice she associated with power, with pain, with death. He said only a few words, but she knew at once— from the way he spoke, his voice laced with poison—that something had gone wrong.
Justin Cronin: As novelists, both of us have chosen to blend the emphasis on character usually associated with literary writing with the plot-driven habits of commercial fiction. I have to say, from my own experience, this is a real challenge. What led you to take it up, and what do you make of these labels? What does the word “genre” mean to you?
Danielle Trussoni: Readers love books that take them somewhere, that teach them something about the world, that have characters that speak to them. At least, these are my favorite kinds of novels. And so when I’m reading, it is more important to feel engaged with the world of the book than to know exactly how it all works. Obviously, when I’m writing, the process is quite different. There is a technical balance between style, character, plot, description, etc. that I’m always aware of. But basically, I write the kinds of books I love to read. I try not to get too caught up in the idea that “literary” writing or “commercial” writing are on opposite sides of the spectrum. As a writer, it is important for me to have the freedom to move between styles and genres freely. The bottom line for me is that I write what I love, I write what moves me, and I write what I need to write to move forward artistically. The style and the subject matter are wholly secondary to these other motivations.
JC: We also share the fact that our most recent works are a major departure from our earlier books. Your first, the memoir Falling Through Earth, is seen by many as worlds apart in style, voice, and content from Angelology and Angelopolis. How do you connect your work as a memoirist to these novels? Was your creative process the same?
DT: I heard a lecture by Kurt Vonnegut once where he said “Writing is a print-out of the soul.” It seems to me that this holds true even when a writer explores vastly different subjects and genres. The writing itself is a reflection of the writer’s particular voice and vision, and this is what remains fixed over the course of many books. My first book may be quite different in style and content from my novels—it was a memoir about my childhood with my father, who was a solider in the Vietnam War—but there is something very personal that marks it as my book. This is what makes the act of writing so mysterious: Whatever a writer may do to mask herself, she is still there, recognizable.
JC: When you began the writing of Angelology, did you conceive of it as the first in a suite of related novels? How does writing a sequel affect your artistic choices? Given that the characters and drama span more than one book, how do you find the sweet spot between giving away too much and too little?
DT: Actually, I thought Angelology was a stand-alone novel for a long time. It wasn’t until I got to the end that I realized that it needed to continue. It wasn’t until I began to write Angelopolis, however, that I realized how very difficult it would be to write a sequel. All of the things I love doing as a novelist—introducing new characters and building a “fictional world”—take on a different aspect in a sequel. There is less description and more action. The characters need to move forward in a different way. I found the change in tempo difficult, to say the least.
JC: Along the same lines, Angelopolis is, of course, a sequel. But it also works as a stand-alone book. How did you pull this off?
DT: I felt very strongly that Angelopolis needed to be both a continuation and a story that a reader could pick up and simply enjoy without having read Angelology. The real challenge for me was to reintroduce the cast of characters in just the right way. For those readers of Angelology, the characters had changed and so I needed to give some background about why this had happened. For readers coming to Angelopolis fresh, I wanted to present fully formed characters that were immediately engaging. It wasn’t at all easy. But at the same time, I found that there was a new lightness in Angelopolis that Angelology did not have.
JC: Evangeline is our guide for Angelology, but in Angelopolis, we spend the majority of our time with Verlaine and see the world through his eyes. What inspired you to make this shift?
DT: First of all, I chose Verlaine as the primary narrator for Angelopolis because I’ve always loved Verlaine as a character. In Angelology, he was a more or less regular guy who fell into the mystery by chance. When Angelopolis begins, Verlaine is in Paris, where he has become an angel hunter. He’s undergone extensive training in the detection and containment of angelic creatures, which gives him a stock of new information that makes him particularly interesting. I also felt that his point of view would be the most dynamic, and bring readers into the situation with more ease than Evangeline’s.
JC: Myth and religion play a vital role in your work. How do you go about weaving ancient texts and legends into your storylines?
DT: Every one of the books I’ve written have been inspired to some degree by mythology. I’ve always been completely fascinated by history, religion and mythology, and for me these elements are primary building blocks for my imagination. I find, especially with Angelology and Angelopolis, that I like to use mythology and religion as elements of the plot. I like to raise the question “What is mythology and what is reality?” and to see this question play out in the novel. In this, I’m inspired by novelists like Mary Shelly and Umberto Eco and Wilkie Collins, whose literary mysteries spring from a mythological source.
JC: A great deal of research—from the history of the Russian tsars to genetics to the creation of the Fabergé eggs—clearly went into Angelopolis. Did you do all your research before you began writing, or did you look into topics as they naturally arose?
DT: Although I have a general idea about the research that will go into a book when I begin it, I tend to do the bulk of my research as I write each scene. I will have books and notes piled up on my desk as I write, so that I can verify facts and look at photographs while writing certain descriptions. I had a lot of fun doing research about the Romanov and Fabergé eggs. I became so completely absorbed in the period that I could have spent all of my time simply reading about Russia.
JC: Is the history you include in Angelopolis always “true?” How do you negotiate the line between history and myth?
DT: The historical situations and characters in Angelology and Angelopolis are all researched and so the information about these periods and people is “true.” I use actual historical documents, religious texts and even people to create an aura of reality in the books, and so I find that my research must be accurate. There are, however, moments when I use historical information as the basis for imaginary events in the novel. For example, in Angelopolis, I have used the Romanov Grand Duchesses as characters. While their behavior and habits have been taken from historical sources, I allow imaginary characters to speculate and to elaborate upon their personalities. The same holds true for the uses of historical documents such as The Book of Enoch in Angelology and The Book of Jubilees in Angelopolis.
JC: Angelopolis takes place all over the world, in countless extraordinary landscapes. Have you visited many of them? What are the challenges of creating such a convincing sense of place without having first-hand experience of a given location?
DT: I have spent a lot of time in Paris, and so the scenes written there were all created from photographs and notes I took myself. And, of course, the scenes in Bulgaria are all recreated from personal experience. But I have never been to Russia, and so it was necessary to do a lot of reading and research about Saint Petersburg and Siberia. I very much hope to go to Saint Petersburg someday to see the place that has inspired so much of my novel.
JC: What do you make of our culture’s current obsession with supernatural archetypes—zombies, werewolves, vampires, angels? And what of the recent surge in apocalyptic tales? What about the present moment accounts for these preoccupations, and what draws you as a writer to these subjects?
DT: This obsession has always been with us. Our connection to the supernatural is an outgrowth of our cultural heritage. Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology, Native American mythology—all of these systems of belief and storytelling were filled with supernatural beings. The Judeo-Christian heritage in which I was raised is filled with spirits, angels, and miracles. I find any impulse to reject this vital part of our culture, to look upon it as a dubious phenomenon, to be somewhat strange. Personally, my books cover subjects as “materialist” as genetics and as “supernatural” as angels. In my opinion, a novelist must have the freedom to explore human experience, wherever it may take her.