Angelology is a story about a young nun coming to terms with her destiny amidst a covert, age-old war between a secret society of scholars and the Nephilim. The book is the debut novel from memoirist Danielle Trussoni, whose first book, Falling Through the Earth, was named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times. In fact, I understand that seven publishing houses bid for the chance to publish Angelology, an auction that was eventually won by Viking. Foreign rights have already been sold in more than 25 countries and Trusonni is already working on the sequel. In addition, a movie is in the making with the screenplay being written by Michael Goldenburg, the screenwriter for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
The publisher was kind enough to provide me with a review copy, which I finished reading a few days ago. I found the book to be well-written with a unique premise and believable, well-developed characters. While I thought early on I had figured out where the story was going, the author twisted the plot in just the right places to keep me guessing and reading for hours.
Angelology was just released March 9 and, thanks to Viking, I have a copy up for grabs. To enter, send a email to contests@[nospam]fantasyandfaith.com with the header “Angelology.” I’m trying to keep my email box from filling up with spam, so when you send your email, make sure to remove “[nospam]” from the address shown above. Make sure to include a snail-mail address in your email.
Here’s an excerpt from Angelology:
St. Rose Convent, Hudson River Valley, Milton, New York
December 23, 1999, 4:45
Evangeline woke before the sun came up, when the fourth floor was silent and dark. Quiet, so as not to wake the sisters who had prayed through the night, she gathered her shoes, stockings, and skirt in her arms and walked barefoot to the communal lavatory. She dressed quickly, half asleep, without looking in the mirror. From a sliver of bathroom window, she surveyed the convent grounds, covered in a predawn haze. A vast snowy courtyard stretched to the water’s edge, where a scrim of barren trees limned the Hudson. St. Rose Convent perched precariously close to the river, so close that in daylight there seemed to be two convents—one on land and one wavering lightly upon the water, the first folding out into the ext, an illusion broken in summer by barges and in winter by teeth of ice. Evangeline watched the river flow by, a wide strip of black against the pure white snow. Soon morning would gild the water with sunlight.
Bending before the porcelain sink, Evangeline splashed cold water over her face, dispelling the remnants of a dream. She could not recall the dream, only the impression it made upon her—a wash of foreboding that left a pall over her thoughts, a sensation of loneliness and confusion she could not explain. Half asleep, she peeled away her heavy flannel night shift and, feeling the chill of the bathroom, shivered. Standing in her white cotton briefs and cotton undershirt (standard garments ordered in bulk and distributed biyearly to all the sisters at St. Rose), she looked at herself with an appraising, analytic eye—the thin arms and legs, the fl at stomach, the tousled brown hair, the golden pendant resting upon her breastbone. The reflection floating on the glass before her was that of a sleepy young woman.
Evangeline shivered again from the cool air and turned to her clothing. She owned five identical knee-length black skirts, seven black turtlenecks for the winter months, seven black short-sleeved cotton button-up shirts for the summer, one black wool sweater, fifteen pairs of white cotton underwear, and innumerable black nylon stockings: nothing more and nothing less than what was necessary. She pulled on a turtleneck and fitted a bandeau over her hair, pressing it firmly against her forehead before clipping on a black veil. She stepped into a pair of nylons and a wool skirt, buttoning, zipping, and straightening the wrinkles in one quick, unconscious gesture. In a matter of seconds, her private self disappeared and she became Sister Evangeline, Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration. With her rosary in hand, the metamorphosis was complete. She placed her nightgown in the bin at the far end of the lavatory and prepared to face the day.
Sister Evangeline had observed the 5:00 a.m. prayer hour each morning for the past half decade, since completing her formation and taking vows at eighteen years of age. She had lived at St. Rose Convent since her twelfth year, however, and knew the convent as intimately as one knows the temperament of a beloved friend. She had her morning route through the compound down to a science. As she rounded each floor, her fingers traced the wooden balustrades, her shoes skimming the landings. The convent was always empty at that hour, blue-shadowed and sepulchral, but after sunrise St. Rose would swarm with life, a beehive of work and devotion, each room glistening with sacred activity and prayer. The silence would soon abate—the staircases, the community rooms, the library, the communal cafeteria, and the dozens of closet-size bedchambers would soon be alive with sisters.
Down three flights of stairs she ran. She could get to the chapel with her eyes closed.
Reaching the first floor, Sister Evangeline walked into the imposing central hallway, the spine of St. Rose Convent. Along the walls hung framed portraits of long-dead abbesses, distinguished sisters, and the various incarnations of the convent building itself. Hundreds of women stared from the frames, reminding every sister who passed by on her way to prayer that she was part of an ancient and noble matriarchy where all women—both the living and the dead—were woven together in a single common mission.
Although she knew she risked being late, Sister Evangeline paused at the center of the hallway. Here, the image of Rose of Viterbo, the saint after whom the convent had been named, hung in a gilt frame, her tiny hands folded in prayer, an evanescent nimbus of light glowing about her head. St. Rose’s life had been short. Just after her third birthday, angels began to whisper to her, urging her to speak their message to all who would listen.
Rose complied, earning her sainthood as a young woman, when, after preaching the goodness of God and His angels to a heathen village, she was condemned to die a witch. The townspeople bound her to a stake and lit a fire. To the great consternation of the crowd, Rose did not burn but stood in skeins of flame for three hours, conversing with angels as the fire licked her body. Some believed that angels wrapped themselves about the girl, covering her in a clear, protective armor. Eventually she died in the flames, but the miraculous intervention left her body inviolable. St. Rose’s incorrupt corpse was paraded through the streets of Viterbo hundreds of years after her death, not the slightest mark of her ordeal evident upon the adolescent body.
Remembering the hour, Sister Evangeline turned from the portrait. She walked to the end of the hallway, where a great wooden portal carved with scenes of the Annunciation separated the convent from the church. On one side of the boundary, Sister Evangeline stood in the simplicity of the convent; on the other rose the majestic church. She heard the sound of her footsteps sharpen as she left carpeting for a pale roseate marble veined with green. The movement across the threshold took just one step, but the difference was immense. The air grew heavy with incense; the light saturated blue from the stained glass. White plaster walls gave way to great sheets of stone. The ceiling soared. The eye adjusted to the golden abundance of Neo-Rococo. As she left the convent, Evangeline’s earthly commitments of community and charity fell away and she entered the sphere of the divine: God, Mary, and the angels.
In the beginning years of her time at St. Rose, the number of angelic images in Maria Angelorum Church struck Evangeline as excessive. As a girl she’d found them overwhelming, too ever-present and overwrought. The creatures filled every crook and crevice of the church, leaving little room for much else. Seraphim ringed the central dome; marble archangels held the corners of the altar. The columns were inlaid with golden halos, trumpets, harps, and tiny wings; carved visages of putti stared from the pew ends, hypnotizing and compact as fruit bats. Although she understood that the opulence was meant as an offering to the Lord, a symbol of their devotion, Evangeline secretly preferred the plain functionality of the convent. During her formation she felt critical of the founding sisters, wondering why they had not used such wealth for better purposes. But, like so much else, her objections and preferences had shifted after she took the habit, as if the clothing ceremony itself caused her to melt ever so slightly and take a new, more uniform shape. After five years as a professed sister, the girl she had been had nearly faded away.
(Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Angelology by Danielle Trussoni. Copyright © 2010 by Danielle Trussoni.)
For more information, you can visit the website at http://www.angelologist.com. There you will find all kinds of stuff, including more excerpts and an audiobook sample. For an Amazon link, click on the picture of the book cover above.