About a month ago, the indie author J. Edward Ritchie contacted me via Twitter, said he enjoyed my blog, and asked me to review his debut epic fantasy novel that got published in 2014, Fall From Grace. I pounced on the opportunity (I do love reading and reviewing indie published boks) and bought the paperback.
He warned me that there was lots of violence and was geared for adult readers. But the only thing that caught my eye was the fact that it was written about angels and war in Heaven and how the fall of Satan and the beginning of Hell came to be. I had always wanted to read (and if not read, write) a book on the Fall and of Satan’s background, even if it were fictional and more allegorical. Fall from Grace promised epic battles, the message of family, loyalty, and brotherhood, and the importance of uniting humanity. Here was the book I was looking for, all caught up in one epic tale, the author’s “tribute to my love for epics, fantasy worlds, and superhero action.” (The author himself is a geek who loves Star Wars, comics, etc. and I did actually catch a few sentences that seemed like intentional slight nerd references.)
So yes, I bought the paperback. Who would think of getting an eBook for such a beautiful story? Don’t ask me. Besides, the paperback really is beautiful. The cover is glossy and the format is easy. It catches the eye and brings you in; formatting a paperback can be hard work, but it’s a masterpiece, a work of art. I’m glad I bought the actual book.
I gave the book an overall rating of 4 out of 5 stars. Let’s get on to the review, shall we?
There are many things in this book that I actually give a 5.5 star rating, and the writing style is one of those. It was amazing. I had never read a story that had such an elegant choice of words, and yet the sentences were a beautiful flow of vivid imagery and description. There’s a unique variation of vocabulary, and that’s one of the things I always feel like some fantasy books really miss out on. Reading it, I was amazed time and time again; kudos to J. Edward Ritchie for putting so much time and work to getting the feel of the story right and making every single word shine with not just uniqueness, but also a belonging; some stories put in words that really shouldn’t be there, some that don’t matter to the story at all, such as unncessary description. Well, not with Fall from Grace; as Satanail, a character, says, “each word was chosen with explicit intentions.” The story made me happy in that way.
But Michael’s travels did not conclude. His soul continued beyond the euphoria and into a darkness that existed outside of the natural equilibrium. Rather than expanding, matter was drawn inward to a quarantined realm of chaos—the afterbirth of Creation composed from cosmic waste. It was a place where no life existed or ever should exist, where even the elements lashed out in distressed, swirling pockets of catastrophic energy. Michael felt like all of the gruesome, sinful experiences of the dead were corralled there in an ethereal smog of hostility. – Fall from Grace
Detail and Description
Often, I read a book or story that has waaaay too much description. Sometimes it’s a lot worse than an info dump (admit it, some info dumps are really cool). But some authors are true experts with detail and description in how they weave it so masterfully through the sentences, causing the reader to see a vivid image in his mind along with the story, without losing the gist of the plot or feeling lost in all the vague and seemingly unncessary detail. I usually like books that don’t have a lot of description so that I can use my own imagination, but when a lot of description and detail are used in Fall From Grace, a picture is painted in the brain while the suspence goes on. I feel like Ritchie is one of those few authors who have this skill. Every scene was painted so realistically, I felt drawn in to the story even more. This aspect of the story complements the choice of words and the overall writing style.
Writing Style: What I didn’t like
I think there was only one thing about the writing style that bugged me a lot. Every once in a while, there were some italics being used for extra emphasis. An example sentence runs thus: “Michael inched ahead of Satanail,” and “Michael stepped off the precipice and dove headfirst down the mountain.” At first I read these inserts of italicization and wondered if this was just a unique style of writing; I surely had never seen it before. But the more I came upon these instances, the more awkward it became. In my opinion, these places would have been just fine without the italics; the reader would have been impressed simply reading the words, and I felt that the extra emphasis was unnecessary. I wondered if this was a leaking of the author’s own personality, necessary to show his excitement for the story and the scene itself.
Worldbuilding and Characters
So this aspect of the book, worldbuilding, gets a 5.5 star; it was that amazing. Put together with an amazing writing style left me at a loss for words at how beautiful it was. The whole first several chapers of the book were all dedicated to the worldbuilding and the character development. Heaven: Who knows about Heaven here to describe it? No one. However, it takes an imaginative and skilled mind to come up with an idea of what Heaven could be like; the beauty, the nature, the cities, the countrysides, and all the destinations that are spoken of as the main characters visit each place.
Characters: The Base of the Storyline
The characters were amazing. At first, before Satan fell from grace to become the king of demons (whoops, sorry for the obvious spoiler), there were only angels, living in perfect harmony, love, and faith to their Creator. It is an ideal Heaven. The angels are like Tolkien’s hobbits or elves. Usually, when we think of angels, we think of nameless, fantastical beings dressed in nightgowns with circles of lights floating above their heads. In Fall from Grace, the angels are like humans, with emotions and feelings and desires, but so much more glorious, strong, and, well, majestic. I don’t know of any other book that has angels as characters, and Ritchie broke the stereotype of the angel in an epic way.
Another thing that I found so fascinating is that Ritchie did a lot of research on angels in different types of religion and mythologies, and he came up with a hierarchal order: The Seraphs (the highest order), Archangels, the Thrones, the Elders … you need to check out J. Edward Ritchie’s website and read the page on the Celestial Hierarchy. It describes all the different orders of angels and what their duties are in Heaven. That’s what I call good worldbuilding.
Michael and Satanail: They are both brothers, the only sons of the Creator (God). Michael is the Logos, the one who receives the word from the Creator, and this is what makes Satanail jealous; he is just the Archon, a popular figure of authority who built the main city of Heaven, Araboth. The book is basically the story of how they loved each other as brothers and how Michael’s decision to embrace Mankind led Satanail to believe that Mankind was going to take the angels’ place in Heaven, which led to his rebellion, which led to his fall in becoming a demon and transforming many angels to follow him in cannibalistic debauchery and deathlust. Michael struggles as he seeks Father, the Creator, and asks for deliverance and salvation as brutal war persists between angels and demons, but the Creator never answers.
Another thing I enjoyed (and should have expected) was the topic of the Problem of Evil. Why, of course, this story is about the very beginnings of the origins of Evil itself … what other work of fiction could seize the opportunity of talking about it? Satan questions the Creator’s absense later on in the book:
“What Father watches his sons led to their slaughter without lifting a finger to prevent it? Where is the omniscient, all-loving Creator we’ve prayed to since the dawn of our existence? Was it naught but wasted breath?” – Fall from Grace
You knew that I’d rebel, Father, and yet you still created me, Satan thought. All of the blood that has befallen Heaven drips from your hands as well. You saw it and allowed it to happen. Why? What are we to you? – Fall from Grace
Beautiful, yet twisted words.
My favorite character is Gabriel. He is one of the Seraphim, but he doesn’t do too much in the beginning. He is the caretaker of the Tree of Life and oversees the distribution of manna. Later on, when the war is going on, Michael loses conscienceness and all hope as he lets the Creator take his spirit into a realm; Gabriel, however, tries to wake Michael up and prays to the Creator to restore his soul. Michael comes back to life. This whole scene reminded me so much of King’s Cross from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
This scene is probably my favorite from all the scenes in the whole book Why? (NERD REFERENCE ALERT) Gabriel reminds me of Samwise Gamgee and Michael of Frodo. Gabriel pleads with Michael not to give up fighting, not to give up hope and to keep fighting for the Host, for faith in the Creator, for Mankind, for the good of Heaven and the elimination of evil.
“I believe that we all have roles in this life. Maybe the’re not the ones we’d hoped for, maybe we even stray from them, but they’re ours to own. So we do it, because that’s what needs to be done. Those who can’t understand that will always be followers, never leaders. That’s what you taught me. Whatever decisions are haunting you, they were yours to make. Stay true to yourself, and the Host will not question them. … We’re not alone. We have each other, and that’s all the truth I need. Whether you’ve followed your instinct or were guided by the Creator, you’ve never led us astray. So take your sword, and finish what you’ve started. … Michael, you’re the single greatest angel I’ve ever known. Come dawn, everyone will remember why.” -Fall from Grace
Michael takes heart and sees Gabriel as an equal for the first time in his life. From this point on, Gabriel takes the place of Satanail as Michael’s loved brother and friend, and this strong friendship reminds me so much of, yes, Sam and Frodo from Lord of the Rings. Michael takes a stand to talk to the Host – an army beaten, angels who would welcome death – and encourages them, taking Gabriel’s words and transforming them into a speech, the last battle cry before the storm.
“We are not conquered! The demons can surround us, they can storm our city, they can break our bodies, but we will endure. We will persevere because we do not fight only for our own future. We fight for Mankind’s future. We fight for the future of Father’s Creation. Satanail’s hunger for power will never be satiated. He will not cease his subjugation with our Kingdom. … Mankind is our family. As children of the Creator, we live or die together. This is our last stand! … We are more than angels. We are more than warriors. Let all of Creation know this — WE ARE GUARDIANS!”
–Fall from Grace
And that, folks, is my love for this book summed up.
So why not a 5 star?
There are a lot of good reasons I didn’t give Fall From Grace the extra star it could have deserved. First of all, the story was intense. Very intense. In fact, this is one of the main reasons it took me so long to get through it. It took a lot of mental energy to read a whole chapter in one day because there was so much going on … so much dread and violence and deep, deep struggles, mental and physical, with the characters and the circumstances.
Gore and violence: The first half of the book was fairly clean as far as this stuff goes. Before Satanail rebelled, there was nothing as far as language, sensuality, and violence goes. I could have recommended that half to a ten-year-old. But when the rebellion starts … I had to skim quite a few places because not only does the amazing description help paint such a gory, vivid image in my brain (and makes it stay there), it’s as if Ritchie was an anatomist. Every. Single. Detail. was noted, making it seem as if you were actually there, watching. Ew. Here’s an example that’s not half as gory as some other sequences: With a quick flick of his wrist, the fibrous tissues connecting muscle to bone snipped apart. Very anatomically realistic. That’s what makes the image so REAL and easy to see in your head. Fortunately, these scenes were easily skimmable.
Sensual scenes: Fortunately, there was very little sensual scenes between Satanail and Sammael’s wives (custom made creatures like the Forgotten, which are basically deformed angels and the inspiration for Satan’s demons). Again, I wish the detail could have been omitted from these scenes, but I was able to skim them and understand the plot. No big deal.
Pacing: I feel like the whole book could have been halved. It started out very slow, but there was no info dump. The whole first half introduced the reader to Heaven and all the different characters and orders of angels. The second half was all brutal war, violence, and killing, as well as some amazing scenes of hope and stunning dialogue, but I felt the violence could have been watered down a lot. I appreciate Ritchie’s warning that the book was aimed for adult readers; at least I knew what I was getting into, but hadn’t expected it to be so intense.
Humor? Nope. At first it bugged me that there was no humor to break the dreary line of story, not to at least lighten it up a bit. But now I understand there is absolutely nothing funny at all with war in Heaven, Satan, and his demons. It takes a lot of guts to write that, and realistically.
Would I like to see a movie adaption of Fall From Grace? No, simply because of the gruesome and sensual images. But there were scenes full of hope, beauty, light, and majesty that I would pay good bucks for to see a well done film rendition. Though I would probably cry a lot. The pages got blurry sometimes simply reading it.
Biblical or Non-Biblical?
As a Christian, this book was a very interesting read. The author, who is nonreligious, wrote the book so that it appealed to everyone, whether they are religious or not. Reading the story about the beginning of Satan and Hell and the fall of mankind, there were some things that clearly could not have been in terms of Biblical accuracy. But the overall story made so much sense that I wondered how similar it really was to the actual event. The story was told in such an understandable way; it was as if Ritchie read the New Testament and wondered how all those things came to be. What was Satan’s background? What really caused him to fall? Could it have anything to do with the creation of Earth and mankind? Could it have to do with jealousy? Who or what was he jealous of? Put those questions together, answer them with a credible story, and you have Fall From Grace. Fairly ingenious, if you ask me.
Quotes Worthy of Mention
As I said, I could pick out a few slight nerd references. There were also many, many different sections from the book with amazing quotes, most of them I didn’t underline or write down. But I wish I had. There are numerous quotables in Fall From Grace with only a few I’ve picmonkeyed below.
So, would I recommend this book? I’m actually still undecided. I would definitely read it again, now that I know what to expect and to brace myself. I’d recommend it to people who aren’t afraid to dive deep, who aren’t afraid of dreary depth and intense meaning. As noted before, it is not a YA book and is for adult readers. It’s up to you; you know what you can handle. There; you have been warned. However, there were amazing passages that, not only had great messages, were just beautifully written in a simplistic way. I’d highly recommend the book merely for its writing style, the characters, worldbuilding, and the overall story.
Thanks again to J. Edward Ritchie for asking me to read and review his book! Go check out the author’s site here: J. Edward Ritchie.com. Thanks for reading and good day to you all.