Title: Angel Time
Readers of Anne Rice's books expect to explore the otherworld. Angel Time, Rice's latest release, fulfills that expectation yet again—but this time with a twist. The only bloodlust found here resides in the human protagonist, professional hitman Toby O'Dare, a.ka. Lucky the Fox.
As the story opens in present day, Lucky is lamenting the location of his next assignment. His handler, "The Right Man," requires a murder to take place at the Mission Inn, which happens to be Lucky's favorite refuge, a place where he feels free to wander undisguised, a sanctuary that restores his spirit. He knows that killing his target there will pollute its sacredness, and the idea of losing the only place where he can be himself—thereby losing what's left of Toby—brings the assassin to the edge of despair.
Enter Malchiah, a seraph in the form of a mysterious, understanding, gentle stranger. He brings Toby a message of hope—his Maker loves him and hasn't given up on him. Can Toby accept His forgiveness? If so, He has a task for Toby—a chance to use his talents and skills for good, to save life instead of taking it.
This challenge catapults Toby from his present time—through "angel time"— back several hundred years into a situation where innocent lives are at stake. He must risk his own life to save theirs.
I had never before read any of Rice's books (not being a vampire fan), so I cannot compare this novel with her previous work. I was even a bit skeptical before I picked Angel Time up to read—what sort of writer is Anne Rice?
An excellent one, I learned.
Rice's substantial descriptive skill make the reader feels she is walking alongside the characters, whether embracing the detailed beauty of the Mission Inn or panicking at being thrown into a violent peasant mob. One chapter includes a moving depiction of what prayers rising to heaven might look, sound, and feel like. Innocuous details about life in the 13th century bring clarity to that unfamiliar time.
The book's greatest strength lies in its complex, interesting, surprising, and imperfect characters. They drive the plot. It moves along as the characters change, act, think, and learn. Even as Toby's mission draws toward an end, events unfold in direct relation to characters' emotional and spiritual maturity. The actual conclusion of the medieval portion of the story disappointed me—it seemed too easily wrapped up. But it does lay the groundwork for the next book in the Songs of the Seraphim series.
The spiritual theme cannot be ignored. Angels, obviously, make an appearance, and they are good, dedicated servants of God. Morality issues prevail—when is it acceptable to lie? Is life itself more valuable than absolute truth? Above all, the theme of redemption rings throughout the book. Toby cannot quite believe Malchiah's message—can God truly forgive a professional killer? Can he really start over clean? And if that is true, what does it take to be forgiven?
As I read, I began to fear that Toby's redemption would be contingent upon his willingness to engage in this sacrificial, dangerous rescue mission. But the author reveals her understanding of grace clearly in one significant conversation between Toby and Malchiah. Toby says that he wants to believe God has forgiven him, but he's afraid. The angel challenges him, "No, you're not. You haven't accepted His forgiveness. You must trust that He can forgive a man like you. And He has."
There's nothing like finding the gospel in an Anne Rice novel.
**This review first published on November 20, 2009.