a commentary by Evie Kendal
Fallen angels in paranormal romance: to say that fallen angels are the new vampires would be slightly misleading as many authors within this trend are simply incorporating these supernatural creatures into their current paranormal series. Take for example J. R. Ward’s Fallen Angels series, a spin-off from the Black Dagger Brotherhood, or the sudden introduction of fallen angels into Kerrelyn Sparks’ Love At Stake series at book ten. However, there are also paranormal series in which fallen angels feature as the primary otherworldly beings, and the surge of interest in these characters is particularly evident in young adult paranormal romance. This review will focus on one such series, Lauren Kate’s Fallen novels, paying particular attention to the newest instalment Fallen in Love, a series of short stories set within the Fallen fictional world.
The Fallen series
The Fallen series is essentially the tale of repetitive spontaneous human combustion – of the same human – approximately every seventeen years. The lead characters are Daniel, a fallen angel cursed to forever lose his mortal soulmate, and Lucinda, she who is cursed to “go through puberty a thousand times” before inexplicably bursting into flames. While Daniel is immortal, Lucinda is perpetually re-incarnated after each death, her soul irresistibly pulled to Daniel’s until they fall in love, she dies, and the cycle repeats again: an everlasting punishment for them both. How this curse came to be is the central mystery of the series, one that modern-day Luce is determined to understand. As she does not retain the memory of her previous lives, Luce cannot explain the effect Daniel has on her when they meet in Fallen, only knowing that he seems familiar and that she is powerfully drawn to him. Determined to keep her away from him for her protection, Daniel is at first rude to the newest incarnation of his love, before eventually succumbing to their bond, expecting her to die the moment they first touch, or kiss, or profess their love, as has been the case in all previous cycles. However, it turns out that in this incarnation something has changed, and by the end of the first novel allies and enemies from the war between Heaven and Hell are all trying to piece together what this means for them.
Regarding the series as a whole, after revealing that Daniel is a fallen angel in Fallen, the narrative continues with Luce exploring the world of angels, demons and Nephilim in Torment, and then embarking on a journey of self-discovery through her previous incarnations in Passion. What is most significant about this trajectory is that although the romance between Daniel and Luce is of paramount importance, this fictional world and Luce’s current life would still be interesting to read about even if the love story was absent. This is due to the level of detail provided for the world and the characters within it, neither of which are two-dimensional constructs merely propping up a tale of star-crossed lovers. The story contains elements of mystery and thriller that could stand independent of the romance plot. The series follows a fairly regimented chronology for the first two novels, each chapter roughly equating to a day in Luce’s life at Sword and Cross reform school (Fallen) and Shoreline school for Nephilim (Torment). There are no jumps in time until the end of Torment when Luce steps through a portal in time and space, setting the scene for the trace back in time depicted in Passion. Although this trace goes all the way back to the Fall, readers still have not experienced the quintessential romance novel “love at first sight” moment between Daniel and the original Lucinda, ensuring part of the love story is reserved for the final novel Rapture, due for release this year.
Comparing the Fallen series to other young adult novels
Perhaps the best part of the Fallen series is the fact that the mystery is sustained throughout the first three novels. Many young adult series, particularly of the paranormal variety, contain a single “big reveal” when the love interest discovers the object of their affection is a vampire/werewolf/ghost etc. After this point the obstacles in their relationship are mostly manufactured from external social pressures, and often include some rather implausible misunderstandings between the lead characters. In this way the Fallen series really stands out as an exception. Daniel is not unjustified in his belief that he and Lucinda can never stay together – she turns into ash every time they try. Most importantly, three novels in and the reasons behind this are still not fully explained, the reader merely uncovering more pieces of the puzzle alongside Luce. More than anything this serves to engage the reader throughout the entirety of the series, saving some secrets for the end. In my experience many young adult series tend to drag somewhat in the middle, with the first and last novels the only truly adventurous ones. By contrast, Kate’s story possesses continual momentum, good plotting and consistently effective narrative pacing. Each book of the Fallen series thus far demonstrates that Kate is not afraid to change the status quo. When she promises an apocalyptic battle, she delivers. When characters need to die for the story, she kills them. This is something a lot of young adult authors seem reluctant to do, often gearing up to battles that never amount to anything or that occur mostly off the page, and avoiding the death of significant characters even when this leaves the story unconvincing.
From a pedagogical standpoint the Fallen series provides some history education for young readers, and the vocabulary, while mostly accessible, contains some “stretch” words. Compared to many other young adult series the educational element contained in Kate’s writing seems more natural and far less condescending to the audience. The historical lessons are vital to the narrative and flow seamlessly into the story, suggesting that while Kate did her research, it was not so she could lecture her young readers. The only teaching parents or guardians may find offensive is the religious education provided for Luce as she develops throughout the story. According to the Fallen fictional world the division between good and evil is never simple, and sympathy is evoked and sustained for both the angelic and demonic characters in the series. What is interesting here is the use of John Milton’s Paradise Lost in Luce’s classroom, a tale literary scholars often believe “accidentally” paints a darkly heroic picture of Lucifer, who is ostensibly the villain of the piece. While using the Bible as the source text would not have allowed any ambiguity regarding the state of fallen angels, Paradise Lost allows readers to question the definition of good and evil, and whether the punishment described in the Fall was just. As the Fallen series continues it becomes clear that while Lucifer is “evil incarnate,” the position of the other celestial beings is cause for debate.
Comparing the Fallen series to the Twilight Saga
While I loathe the current trend of comparing all young adult fiction to Harry Potter or Twilight, Kate appears to be seeking comparison to the latter in some of her writing (particularly the mention of Team Miles and Team Daniel t-shirts in Torment). There are also definite similarities between Daniel Grigori and Edward Cullen, including that they are both overbearing, overprotective immortals who have fallen in love with mortal women (and yes, they both sparkle too). However, any comparison between the Fallen and Twilight series is better focused on the differences between their heroines, with Luce Price being far and away an improvement on the insipid Bella Swan. Before continuing any further I would like to stress that this is not intended as a Twilight-bashing, I injected Stephenie Meyer’s series straight to the vein like any other addict, however there are some disturbing elements in Bella’s characterisation that make her a far inferior role model for young women than Luce.
Both these seventeen-year-old girls are madly in love with boys who hold some unnatural thrall for them, but while Bella responds to this unthinkingly, Luce questions everything. It is not enough for Daniel to tell her they have always been in love and that their souls are eternally intertwined, she has to understand and experience it herself. She never denies the pull she feels towards Daniel but she critically reflects on their relationship, wondering if it is the right one for both of them given how much suffering it entails. When Daniel is keeping things from her for her own good she questions whether that is the kind of unequal partnership she wants anything to do with, demanding open communication at every opportunity. If Daniel orders her around without giving a good reason, Luce feels free to ignore him. She also refuses to follow a fairytale blindly, wanting to know not only that Daniel loves her, but why. If only Bella had the same presence of mind she would realise her relationship with Edward was based on his inability to distract himself from a particularly appetising lunch – her. Best of all is the fact that until Luce is convinced Daniel truly loves her and that his choice isn’t motivated by the curse and a bond he can’t control, she keeps her options open. (And not in a way that abuses a close male friend and requires an awkward fetal-imprinting to resolve a painful love triangle.) Throughout Passion Luce also becomes the epitome of the self-made woman, travelling back through her own past hoping to enact changes that will preserve her present and help create a new future. Daniel and her friends try to find her and help, but Luce knows it is something she has to do by herself. She is not running away as an act of teen-rebellion, she is actively shaping her own destiny. Bella, on the other hand, seems too incapacitated by any separation between her and Edward to even contemplate getting out of bed.
In terms of their intelligence, despite repeated claims throughout the Twilight series that Bella is smart (after all she reads all those books!) it is clear that Luce is far beyond her. She may not guess everything correctly at first, but Luce asks the right questions (sans annoying whining). Given her level of knowledge at the time she begins to witness the curse in action, it is reasonable for her to believe Daniel is to blame for causing her and her multiple families so much grief, and to question the purity of his motives. Unlike Bella, Luce does not place all other priorities below her romantic feelings. Luce also reads literature, and manages to sound much less pretentious doing so, but while Bella and Edward may be inspired by the works of Shakespeare, there are hints in Passion that Lucinda and Daniel inspired Shakespeare. Also, while Bella compares herself to the tragic literary heroines Juliet Capulet and Catherine Earnshaw, Luce compares herself to Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet, swearing that even back in the 19th century she would never have tolerated being bossed around by Daniel, anymore than Lizzy bows to Darcy’s overbearing character. Furthermore, Luce never ceases to seek the truth, unwilling to rely on second-hand information about her past lives, needing to understand who she is and the true foundation of her connection to Daniel. Her scepticism is what allows her to demand proof of their love, unsatisfied with vague explanations and instinctual emotions. When Luce needs time to absorb and process new information she also considers her separation from Daniel quite logically, stating that if they are eternal soulmates then their love can wait while she figures some things out. This is vastly different to Bella’s response when Edward abandons her in New Moon, which essentially revolves around indulging in reckless behaviour and moping around inconsolably.
Fallen in love: New Tales from the Fallen World
It is also in contrast to the Twilight Saga spin-off The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner that Kate’s Fallen in Love collection truly shines. In her introduction to the Twilight novella, Meyer claims that the character Bree had a story that demanded telling. However, having read the story I argue that it is entirely superfluous. Since Bella, Edward and Jacob are the only characters that really matter in the series, a story that happens on the periphery, particularly one in which the reader already knows the fate of all the characters, just isn’t interesting. Without one of the lead love interests present the fictional world and its characters fail to entice, and this is what distinguishes Kate’s storytelling from Meyer’s. Fallen in Love has not only been released at a more appropriate time to ensure marketability, it also follows characters that are rich enough to warrant their own narratives. A further guarantee of market success for the collection was the inclusion of a sneak preview of Rapture, which would usually have appeared at the conclusion of the previous novel.
The first short story in Fallen in Love details what happened to Luce’s friends Shelby and Miles after they parted ways with Daniel in Passion. Reader interest in this side story was piqued when Daniel reflected on the difficult journey the two had ahead of them if they were to return home to their own time. As Miles formed part of the love triangle present in Torment, Shelby is surprised he has relinquished his interest in Luce so quickly after witnessing some of her history with Daniel. She is also surprised to find she is attracted to Miles when they are stranded in Medieval England on Valentine’s Day, the place all four short stories in Fallen in Love intersect. This first short story is sweet but a little unsatisfying, as Miles’ rapid change of heart isn’t really convincing. I hope more details about this blossoming relationship are provided in Rapture though.
The second short story focuses on the character, Roland Sparks, a demon who travels back to Medieval England to prevent Daniel altering his own past. While the other angels, demons and Nephilim are pursuing Luce, Roland has faith she is fully capable of taking care of herself and figuring out her role in the endgame alone. It is interesting that Roland is the least acquainted with Luce, certainly not one of her closer friends, yet he is the one defending her intelligence and resourcefulness in this story. He also recognises Shelby and Miles’ feelings for each other before they do. This story is more interesting than the first because Roland’s character so far in the Fallen series has remained an enigma. Providing a romantic backstory for him genuinely adds something to the overall narrative, and Kate also uses his physical appearance to interrogate racism over time, in both this tale and throughout Passion. Readers discover in this story that Roland was the Angel of Music, and he is given the opportunity to make amends for breaking the heart of his one true love.
The third short story is from the perspective of the fallen angel Arianne, a close friend to both Roland and Luce. This tale explains the mysterious burn marks Luce noticed on Arriane’s neck in Fallen, the only lasting injury any of the fallen angels displays. While I initially expected a romance between Roland and Arianne, it is actually the demon Tess who is Arianne’s girlfriend in this piece. Like the fact Roland is black, Arianne’s sexuality is not made a big deal, achieving more through subtlety than it could by focusing obsessively on such details and risking alienating these characters.
The final tale is between Daniel and the Lucinda of the time period merged supernaturally with Luce. All the other stories overlap with this one as each character works to bring the couple together on Valentine’s Day. There is more humour in this story than the others, and also the first concrete suggestion that Luce has the potential to choose the side of evil, something that has been hinted at since the beginning of the series. While this tale and the others within Fallen in Love are not strictly necessary for understanding the series overall, they are still well worth reading and do add new material.
Finally, evaluating Kate’s writing from a technical perspective, I believe one of the major strengths compared to other young adult and romance series is the use of a third person narrator. This narrator is usually reliable although often restricted by whatever limitations are in place on Luce’s own understanding at the point in the story. The privileged position accompanying the common use of dramatic irony in romance is thus denied to Kate’s readers – most of the time they know no more about Luce’s history than she does. Having just begun the similarly themed Mercy series by Melbourne author, Rebecca Lim, I can definitely state I prefer Kate’s third person perspective to Lim’s first person narrator. However, I would have enjoyed a little more free indirect discourse in the Fallen series narrative, particularly as there are hints of the kind of humour Kate could have achieved if this technique was used.
The books themselves are gorgeous, and some believe the influence the Twilight covers have had on young adult books, possibly most evident in Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, is soon to give way to covers more closely resembling Kate’s. (Trading apples, ribbons and single flowers for black, flowing lace dresses and stormy skies seems a definite improvement to me!) Like most young adult novels the typeface used in the book is easy to read, with large font and spacing. One of my favourite things about reading a young adult novel is the fact I know I won’t have to squint at the text! While there are various typographical errors present in the copy of Fallen in Love I read, I am reserving judgment on that front on account of it being an advanced copy. However, there are a few errors present in the earlier novels that hindered reading flow. I am also hoping that the final printing of Fallen in Love contains a table of contents and that the app that is supposed to make the cover “come to life” becomes available for Australian consumers.
Looking forward to the final instalment of the series, readers can expect a full resolution of Daniel and Luce’s love story, and explanations pertaining to other aspects of Luce’s current incarnation. The series has been so well structured thus far that I do not anticipate any glaring holes to remain at its conclusion. For any that have not yet picked up the series I thoroughly recommend it, however I am almost inclined to suggest waiting until the final book is released such that the whole series can be devoured together. Time travel aside, the narrative flows continuously from book to book making it very easy to read in quick succession. Of course, for those who have already fallen in love with the Fallen series there is always the option of re-reading all the earlier novels in preparation for the finale too!