Review: Angel Mage by Garth Nix

First, a confession: Garth Nix is one of those authors whose books had a fundamental impact on my childhood. The library’s copy of Sabriel was usually checked out to me because I read and reread it so often. I say this because it’s only fair for you to know upfront that I shrieked with glee when I opened the box and saw his new book, Angel Mage, waiting for me to devour. In other words… I might be a little biased but I really did enjoy this latest offering.

It has been 137 years since the Fall of Ystara. Liliath, a powerful mage, has finally remerged from her unnaturally long slumber with one singular goal still in mind: be reunited with her angel lover, the archangel Pallenial. In the neighboring kingdom of Sarance live four seemingly unconnected young men and women who find themselves drawn together and then drawn into a conflict bigger than any of them could possibly imagine possible. It’s all part of Liliath’s plan…

Angel Mage is one of those books where I had no idea where the heck it was headed until the last fifty or so pages when all was revealed. This felt delightfully fresh and I eventually stopped trying to figure out who exactly the four were and who were the bad guys and just went along for the ride. The world Nix constructed felt familiar enough with just enough fantastical world building to easily sweep me right along with it. The title really sums it up nicely: mages can summon the power of angels but there’s always a cost involved. The magic meshes well with the politics of the world, drawing readers further in so they want to know more.

What really makes the book work are the four protagonists at its center who get pulled into this grander story because something makes them of interest to Liliath. Agnez wants to be the best Queen’s Musketeer there ever was. Simeon wants to earn his official doctor certification so he can practice even though he’s already well trained. Henri wants to be a solider and not a scribe. And then Dorotea is an icon-maker and a scholar who would really just like to be left alone so she can study. Even though they’re initially drawn together by forces outside of their control, they become a found family unit. (It doesn’t hurt that I love found family in fiction almost as much as I love air.) I also appreciated that the book was mostly romance free as that’s never been one of my favorite parts of Nix’s books. The one romance isn’t between the core four and is fair bit more subtle. Give me the power of friendship any day!

One thing that Nix particularly excels at is writing sympathetic antagonists who are still firmly the bad guys. For much of the book, I found myself questioning whether Liliath was on the side of angels or demons, metaphorically speaking. The answer proved to be neither as she was on her own side which is what makes her work so well here. The best antagonists are the heroes of their own story and she certainly see herself as the hero of hers.

Especially if you’re already a fan of Nix’s books, Angel Mage is definitely worth picking up. It’s got his normal stamp on a magic system with cool doodads and lots of awesome female characters. I suspect it’s also one of those books I’ll dig even more after a second reading but for now, I’ll have to settle for definitely recommending it to all of you.

Thank you to Wunderkind PR for providing a copy of the book for review purposes.

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