One thing stood out to me, partly--and paradoxically--by not standing out. The setting is roughly Napoleonic in terms of technological and social/political development, not the best of times for women in the real world. In Adro, women hold plenty of power: they are generals, colonels, captains and sergeants in the army, they are heads of institutions and political factions, they are mages and "special forces" operatives. And within the context of the story this fact is utterly unremarkable. No one notices that women are in power because why wouldn't they be? It's just neat to see a merit-based power structure that isn't obnoxiously self-aware.
Same serviceable level of writing as in Volume 1. While there's certainly a lot to be said for a fast moving, well-crafted war adventure like this, I find myself yearning for the depth, richness, and insight of KJ Parker's Engineer trilogy. McClellan almost captures that but falls short.
The archangel Gabriel has been murdered. To keep reality from unraveling, a lesser angel named Bayliss kills an innocent woman and turns her into an angel so that she can take Gabriel's place as a load-bearing member of the Heavenly Host.
The setting is c.2070, but there's very little "future" in the story. There are two POV characters: Molly, the unwitting rookie-angel, and Bayliss, who for some reason talks, thinks and acts like a hard-boiled noir detective. "I needed a bit of the folding so I could get tight but this dame with crackerjack gams was quite the lulu. I torched a pill and tried not to think about how I'd get pinked if this went sideways." That sort of thing. And my favorite: "He looked more put out than St John's haberdasher." Ha.
Anyway, the all-powerful "Trumpet of Jericho" went missing with Gabriel. True to the noir formula, assorted heavenly thugs take turns bracing, warning off, and/or pummeling our cynical, heroic gumshoe and his confuzzled new partner. They must solve Gabriel's murder and find the Trumpet and time is running out. It's a clever twist on a classic formula. However...
SPOILING IT ALL AHEAD
There needed to be some logic to Bayliss's Raymond Chandler-inspired persona. The setting doesn't account for it. No other character follows his script. But the big plot twist, instead of justifying it, makes it worse: Bayliss was the bad guy all along. There is no reason whatsoever for Bayliss's hard-boiled affectations--and in fact it's his adherence to the formula that gives him away to the good guys, so why do it at all? Furthermore, since he's the bad guy, NONE OF HIS CYNICALLY HEROIC FIRST-PERSON POV CHAPTERS ACTUALLY HAPPENED; literally half the book up to that point was, well, malarkey. Flim-flam.
The mystery was decent, the characters reasonably three-dimensional, the catchy noir lingo a lot of fun. But there's no coming back from that kind of climactic fail.
Follows the Jeffrey Deaver blueprint to a T:
1) The good guys acquire trace evidence from assorted crime scenes and compile a list of random, unconnected substances: "Okay guys, we have crude oil, vanilla extract, sand, and KY jelly. What could it mean??"
2) The bad guys plot to kill the good guys horribly because targeting a team of cops and FBI agents seems like a good idea. The good guys survive by being awesome.
3) Nineteen plot twists of the Bruce-Willis-was-a-ghost-all-along variety.
4) Lincoln saves the day, smugly explaining to the reader how the disparate substances led him right to the killers' doors: "The crude oil told me he was going to blow up an oil refinery, the vanilla proves that he likes to cook, the sand is from Nassau RIGHT WHERE THE PRETTY COED WAS MURDERED, and the lube implicates that innocent-seeming executive that we met briefly on page 16. God I'm good."
I need to stop reading open-ended series. I'm getting jaded.
She descends into a Lewis Carroll-esque Mississippi bayou to find the missing girl. The bayou is populated with monsters and godlike beings, personifications of concepts and artifacts from the Jim Crow era. There's a sheet-headed creature named Nathan, which I assume is a reference to the Civil War general who founded the KKK. The evil but unseen Bossman's son is a smiling giant named Cotton-Eyed Joe who swallows people whole. There's a heroic dog named Woodrow, a second sheet-headed fiend called Jefferson, a murder of Jim Crows, and a murderous creature called a golliwog which looks like a cross between a racist old-fashioned black caricature and Gollum. I wish I understood more of the references...was Woodrow Wilson an equal-rights activist? Who does Jefferson refer to, the former president? I have some googling to do.
Bayou is beautiful, colorful, expressive. Just gorgeously drawn. A powerful contrast to the horrors of the plot and setting.
David Wellington has written a romance novel masquerading as an action thriller. The hero spends most of the book distractedly mooning over the requisite beautiful scientist who starts tagging along in Act One--one of many unlikely plot points that Wellington does a piss poor job of justifying. Chapel just respects her strength and passion SO MUCH, could it be--dare he think it--true love? He's a firm believer in secrecy and national security but gosh darn it she just DESERVES to be told every high-level secret that he can think of because it's MORALLY RIGHT. Ugh.
Internal logic flies out the window over and over again. An example: a psychotic superkiller gleefully and easily takes down entire Seal teams, in public, kills every challenger and enjoys doing so; but when our one-armed hero confronts said superkiller alone in an empty house--affording him plenty of privacy for violence and butchery--he conveniently knocks Chapel down and runs away? This kind of thing keeps happening.
Wellington clumsily attempts a series of shocking twists à la Jeffrey Deaver or Lincoln Child. He is not good at it. I look forward to not reading the next installment.