Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Angels Amidst Demons ~ A review of "Path of Angels" by Dawn Witzke

Check it out Here!

*Note: Ms. Witzke has aided me putting together the cover design to a previous book of mine. This has no bearing on the following review.*

I'm not a big reader of Young Adult fiction these days, despite writing my own, though it might not be for the reasons you would think.

The genre started properly with The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton when publishers created a category just for it and those that spun out from it. This was because the elite didn't want this filthy book written by a peasant teenage girl to rub shoulders with its adult masterpieces. After all, if people want to read it without being forced to, it can't be a good book. But over the years, many missed what made Hinton's works so good (aside from That Was Then, This Is Now which very much reads as a paint by numbers YA book) and worthy of so much attention.

Now YA is filled with the same junk that made people abandon standard fiction in the first place. Stories reveling in death, drugs, sex, and nihilism, are not appealing to the majority of people. But that's what they were given over and over.

The appeal of YA is about coming of age stories between childhood and becoming an adult. The catch is that becoming an adult has to be something the teenager should aspire to become. When you believe the world is meaningless and empty you cannot write a story in this genre. You will miss the point. Most YA today completely misses this point.

And this is why I dislike the genre.

I approached this book with a little trepidation. The Hunger Games being a weaker Battle Royale and carrying all the weaknesses of Twilight and, despite all this, still being considered the cornerstone of the genre sours me on this. All mainstream YA follows the same pattern nowadays.

But then I remembered this was an indie book and all those worries faded away. Path of Angels, not being bound by the fads of the genre, or the obnoxious tropes, is able to tell a story that both males and females can fine enjoyment in without having to hit those tiresome tropes publishers just love. That's not to say it's perfect, but it is good at what it does.

The story takes place in a society where the world has been cleansed of its warts and true utopia has been achieved. Pesky religion has been disposed of, and the state is able to take its place, controlling every aspect to make sure things don't go out of hand. Oh, did I say utopia? Maybe to some people this is one. For most anyone else, it's clearly a dystopia.

A member of the underground church, seventeen year old Aadi, embarks on a quest to deliver a holy relic to a far off town. She is joined by her friend, Mischa, who is secretly looking to leave town for his own reasons. Along the way the pair face an adventure of roving psychos, Red Guards, and the elements themselves, as they learn more about the society they live in, and each other. Path of Angels is an adventure tale which means it's fixated on the journey and how easy it is to lose your way.

The very first thing that hooked me in the story was that the very first chapter starts with an intense action sequence. It was so jarring for what I expected out of this sort of story that I had to check if I was reading the right book. This is a good thing. Modern YA takes so long to get off the ground that this was exactly what was needed to snap me out of my built-in cynicism for the genre. This isn't a full-on action story, but this explosion of chaos kept me on edge for the rest of the story that something similar could happen again.

Another aspect that got me was the theme of faith against hopelessness. There are many times in the book where things look bad for the characters, and there are times when things go very, very wrong for others. In most other books of this type, the author would revel in this type of attitude and emphasize how pointless it all is, but in this story, perseverance and luck are intertwined and highly valued almost as much as faith. There isn't much time for whining or moping when you could be executed at a moment's notice, and the characters know this. It's a hard trick to show hope in the face of hopelessness, but Dawn Witzke pulls it off.

I suppose I could mention that there is a love triangle, but it is not quite what you would think. Aadi's old boyfriend, Thad, is now a priest, and in many ways he represents her religious side. In contrast, Mischa is very much her childhood friend, and first crush, and represents her emotional side. Thad is replaced by God in their relationship, just as He has replaced Aadi in a way--they're still friends but everything has changed. She has to deal with these changes in order to grow up and face the world, but it is not so much about choosing between two hot guys like most YA novels are. There's actually a very clear answer, but not for the reasons you would think, and it involves a real moral choice. It takes a lot to get me invested in triangle style relationships, but it is pulled off well here.

There are a few personal complaints I could point out. Outside of the first action sequence, there weren't really many others quite as intense, and those that are there are pretty spread out, but this also isn't an action story so it is understandable. On the other hand, I would liked to have learned more about Thad, but he isn't in the story much. There was also a scene where Mischa should have beaten another man to a pulp for what he did, but just left the location with Aadi instead. Aadi's cousin's motivation for a certain thing she does to Aadi is unclear, especially since we never see her or her husband again. I could probably guess what it was, but it should have been spelled out in big bold letters.

This was a great YA story by Dawn Witzke and I look forward to seeing what she has coming next. If you once enjoyed YA, but were chased away by either the nihilism or the sex obsession, then this book is exactly for you. If not, well, this is definitely one of the better ones to come along in a while. This has the makings of an intriguing series.

Hopefully this is the start of something better for the genre. This isn't Salinger; and thank God for that!


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