“Angelopolis” by Danielle Trussoni (Viking, 320 pgs., $27.95)
John Milton, the 17th-century writer and poet, is perhaps most responsible for giving Satan and his rebel angels celebrity status. In “Paradise Lost,” Milton imagines the fallen angels as “all monstrous, all prodigious things,” presenting them as the heroes of his epic work explaining humanity’s fall from grace and justifying “the ways of God to man.”
From the novels in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series to films like “The Matrix,” Milton’s masterpiece continues to influence literature and popular culture.
In Danielle Trussoni’s “Angelology” (2011), she brilliantly re-imagines the descendants of Milton’s rebel angels, the Nephilim (angel / human hybrids), as principal players in human history. She introduces an ancient society of Angelologists, who have existed for a long as “there were giants on the earth,” and whose mission is to destroy the Nephilim’s dominion over humanity.
This first novel also introduces readers to the characters and the mythology of Trussoni’s divine supernatural world (the complex hierarchy of angels and their stunning evolution). In her latest book, “Angelopolis,” she ramps up the action to thriller levels.
From Paris to St. Petersburg, from the hidden treasures of Russia’s Hermitage Museum to the abominations locked in a subterranean Siberian prison, Trussoni’s plot sweeps readers breathlessly across Europe. She has created such a seductive alternative history that it easily puts anything Dan Brown has imagined to shame.
Skillfully layering significant myths from before the Common Era into the narrative, Trussoni makes it hard not to believe that anything is and was possible.
The myth of the Titans, the story of Orpheus, the deeds of Noah and his sons, the creation story in Genesis and the apocryphal ruminations in the Book of Enoch (a noncanonical text once considered sacred) all play a role in smart suspenseful ways.
The heroes at the center of “Angelopolis” are Verlaine, a handsome Ducati-riding scholar and member of an elite sect of angel hunters who has “the remarkable ability to see the angels” in plain sight and the “physical stamina to capture them,” and Evangeline, a stunning Nephilim, with “immense and luminous wings” of “deep purple shot through with veins of silver” who can appear as human and whose DNA may be the genetic weapon for the coming battle between humans and angels.
I found the world of this novel fascinating, especially the alternative history of Russia and the Romanovs woven into the plot, including the secret symbolism of Faberge eggs; motivations of Rasputin, the “holy man” who had a demonic “influence on the tsar”; and apocalyptic prints of Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer.
But most of all I loved Trussoni’s more subtle theme that to create a city of angels, a heaven on earth, depends on “the Nephilim descended from angels and women.” I’m not sure how Milton would have felt about that, but I’m fine with it.