An independent book reviewBruce A. Blake’s first novel is a thoroughly entertaining, as well as thought-provoking and heart-wrenching novel that breaks the author out of obscurity as well as out of several genre conventions.
Blake demonstrates from the first sentence that he’s a professional writer, a novelist with chops:
“I stood with my back to the church, much the way I’d lived my life.
Rain poured down the eaves, splashing against my shoes. Each drop pattering against the leather felt as though it landed directly on my mood.”
What I liked about this bookFirst, the style: Raymond Chandler meets Stephen King. Spare and terse, it presents characters clearly and sets the ideal tone for this occult horror/mystery thriller story. It shows not only Blake’s ability, but also his commitment to professionalism — it has obviously been edited by a professional. There is not an extra word, not a misplaced phrased, not a single malapropism, and maybe four typos in the whole e-book.
Second, the plot: a tight, fast-paced plot suitable for an action thriller. Blake doesn’t waste time, getting into the main action immediately, and there is not a throw-away scene anywhere. Every scene, every word adds to the plot as much as to character development, mood or scene.
Third, the characters: all solid and believable. The main character, Icarus Fell (yes, that’s his name and Blake has lots of fun with it) is fallible, thoroughly human, not too smart nor too stupid. One reason the plot flows so fast is that it’s seen through the protagonist’s eyes, and his foibles are so easy to identify with. The ex-wife is nasty, but also believable — who hasn’t met at least one woman like Rae? Who hasn’t regretted it? The angels and archangels carry a very believable lack of worry about humans’ plans if they don’t mesh with Heaven’s, too.
And the Angel of Death is one of the best villains ever. Of course, with that as your template, how could a writer go wrong?
Even the shining lamp of goodness in the story, Sister Mary-Therese, hits the right note. She has a heart of gold, but she’s believably good.
PlotThe story is written in the first person. It begins as Icarus Fell, waiting under the eaves of a church for a rainstorm to abate, is murdered outside a church, in the rain, as he is on his way to bring a birthday present to his estranged teenage son.
Yep, that’s where the story begins. The main character dies.
He wakes up six months later in a seedy hotel room, where the Archangel Michael explains his destiny as a harvester of souls. His new job is escorting newly dead souls to a place where an angel can take them to heaven. Michael doesn’t take no for an answer, but explains that if Icarus carries out his new duties faithfully, he will have a chance to see his son again.
Like every action story, though, his job immediately gets more complicated than first explained. Agents of Hell want those sames souls just as much, and they’re powerful and dangerous and nasty.
True to the thriller form, the cops are no friendlier to Icarus. They’re suspicious when he turns up in the city six months after the coroner signs his death certificate.
The author avoids the error that many first-time novelists make, the information dump. We readers get the back-story bit by bit, as we need them to understand the motivations of the characters. We learn just how Icarus “screwed up” his relationship with his wife, Rae, and the nature of his relationship with his perhaps-son, Trevor. We learn how Icarus grew up in the orphanage connected with the church where he was murdered.
And like a true professional author of mystery thrillers, Blake ties together all the threads. There is nothing random, nothing unnecessary, nothing unexplained in this book.
LimitationI won’t say this book has any weaknesses, but one limitation occurred to me fairly early on in the book: the paranormal universe Blake has created is firmly based on the Judeo-Christian bible. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — lots of literature is firmly rooted in the same mythos. The only trouble is that Blake is presenting a universe that basically says the Bible’s conception of the universe is correct. So, where do Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other religions fit into this?
It’s not a big thing, but something that nagged me as I read this.
Overall, On Unfaithful Wings satisfies. I’m upgrading my earlier assessment from four to five stars.
Well done, Bruce!
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Bruce Blake is a member of the Guild of Dreams fantasy writers' collective and Independent Authors International.