Breath of Angel by Karyn Henley


As regular readers of this site know, I am intrigued by imaginative young adult fantasy and almost anything that deals religious and mythological themes.  So I was intrigued by Breath of Angel.  Here is the book trailer for the visual among us:

Here is the publisher’s description for the textual:

When Melaia, a young priestess, witnesses the gruesome murder of a stranger in the temple courtyard, age-old legends recited in song suddenly come to life. She discovers wings on the stranger, and the murderer takes the shape of both a hawk and a man.

Angels. Shape-shifters. Myths and stories—until now.

Melaia finds herself in the middle of a blood feud between two immortal brothers who destroyed the stairway to heaven, stranding angels in the earthly realm. When Melaia becomes a target, she finds refuge with a band of angels attempting to restore the stairway. But the restoration is impossible without settling an ancient debt—the “breath of angel, blood of man,” a payment that involves Melaia’s heart, soul, and destiny.

This seemed like it had a lot of potential.  And upon reading the first book in this series, I think it did/does. But for me, the story never lived up to the potential.  The first chapter is so well done that you want that kind of suspense and tight story telling to last – but it doesn’t. Instead the story seems to lose its power as it continues and never really regains the power it showed in that great start.

The materials are all there: interesting premise, complex and competing mythologies, battle of good and evil, etc. But a couple of things undermine these ingredients and make it somewhat disappointing.  First, I found the lead character Melaia annoying.  Full of self-doubt, angst and prone to dreary inner dialog.  But to be fair this could very well be an age and gender thing. I don’t like characters of this sort and am not a reader of romance. So it could be her age and the nature of romance writing that annoys me.

The other thing that undercuts the story is the lack of character depth. Melaia is a good example. We hear her inner thoughts but they seem flat and unartful. Henley just sort of tells you what Melaia thinks – you don’t feel or see her perspective but are told what they are.  In a similar way it feels like the other characters are stock plot devices rather than fully developed characters.  I don’t think there was a character I really liked in the whole book, except perhaps Gil who was not a particularly central character. Everybody seems immature, prone to tempers and criticism, and not particularly deep or complex. And characters get throne in with little or no explanation of who they are and any sense of their character. All kinds of relationships and secrets play out but it becomes confusing and unclear rather than suspenseful.

The setting and mythological components are so intriguing you keep reading waiting for a payoff when it all comes together – except it doesn’t. This is not that unusual for a short first book in a series – and with a new style and genre for the author – but it still makes for slow reading. You want to dive into a world like this but it reads like a Hollywood set rather than a real creation – stage building with cardboard cutouts rather than true world building.

The ingredients are enough to make it interesting – and I think the right age group and style preferences would make it even more so – but the whole seems less than the parts in the end. Those who like their fantasy with a strong romantic component will probably enjoy this more than I did, but if you are looking for deep characters and tight plots this is not it.


I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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