Black Wings (Madeline Black #1)

Black WingsBy Christina Henry

Publisher: Ace
Publication Date: February 24, 2011
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Publisher

As an Agent of Death, Madeline Black is responsible for escorting the souls of the dearly departed to the afterlife. It’s a 24/7 job with a lousy benefits package.

Maddy’s position may come with magical powers and an impressive wingspan, but it doesn’t pay the bills. And then there are her infuriating boss, tenant woes, and a cranky, popcorn-loving gargoyle to contend with.

Things start looking up, though, when tall, dark, and handsome Gabriel Angeloscuro agrees to rent the empty apartment in Maddy’s building. It’s probably just a coincidence that as soon as he moves in demons appear on the front lawn. But when an unholy monster is unleashed upon the streets of Chicago, Maddy discovers powers she never knew she possessed. Powers linked to a family legacy of tarnished halos.

Powers that place her directly between the light of Heaven and the fires of Hell…

Goodreads Summary

I first saw this when Ms. Henry did an interview promoting it late last year and was so intrigued by it, I picked up a copy as soon as it was released.  I love the angel/nephilim mythology and enjoy seeing what authors can do with it – since angels are the new vampires there are a lot to choose from, too.  I think this had the potential to be a better story than it ultimately was.

Maddy did a stand-in job trying to escort a soul for a friend, but it didn’t go well when the lady wanted to stay with her fifteen cats, so she ended up late to show a prospective tenant the vacant room in her house (that’d be Gabriel).  Her friend came over later for pizza, then on his way home was attacked, but was able to call Maddy for help and when she went to rescue him, found him being eaten by a soul-sucking demon that she instantly knew was the one who’d murdered her mother.  She proceeded to get the snot kicked out of her until she magically manifested a power she never knew she had, a blue fire that she shot out of her hands at his heart that made him disappear in shock.  It rendered her unconscious in the gutter, but she woke up the next morning, clean as a whistle in a nice nightgown with her hair in a cute braid.  Settle in, Maddy is going to get the snot kicked out of herself at least once a chapter.

It turns out Gabriel was sent to protect Maddy by the father she never knew – who turns out to be one of the three original fallen angels, Azazel.  Protect her from what, you ask?  A psycho demon who’s the son of one of the other three, Lucifer.  Yeah, that Lucifer (Focalor is the third).  Maddie manages to wrestle a lot of world-building out of Gabriel after one of her snot-kickings and I think a lot of it is unecessarily complicated.  I’m still not entirely sure, but I think The Morningstar is Hell or something like it – I know it has something to do with where Lucifer lived, but Maddy also had to travel through a giant tree and through a Valley of Shadows, so I don’t know.  Her father lives in Minnesota though.

On the flip side, things that are pretty important are given the shoulder-shrug treatment.  Where do Maddy’s wings come from and go to?  I dunno.  Does Maddy know where the door she’s escorting the souls to go?  No, but Gabriel does and when she asks and she’s told it’s not the right time, she gives up pretty easily.  Maddy talks about her deep love for her mother and she’s on this crusade to free her mother’s soul, but her mom was keeping some serious secrets – were they that close?  Zilch is revealed about her mom and apart from a brief appearance, nothing really about her father Azazel and his relationship with her mother.  I wanted to know more about Maddy herself, but between snot-kickings, visions and demon lessons, there wasn’t much beyond some fun interaction with a gargoyle.

I actually could have handled all of that and not panned the book in general.  The first book in a UF series is usually about world-building and it can be a little dry.  I wasn’t thrilled with the relationships between Gabriel and Maddy or Maddy and her boss – a very lukewarm and uninteresting love triangle if there ever was one, but who knows what could develop.  What bothered me the most was the reliance on deus ex machina around every corner: every time Maddy is attacked, she manifests a new, amazing power that critically wounds the demon she’s using it on – a power that Gabriel knows nothing about, that’s unheard of.  Every time it looks like it’s going to get ugly since she can’t possibly fight her way out of this one, she talks her way out of what should be a lethal situation.  There were two massive ones that I can’t even talk about they’re so big.  I get that because of her lineage – that’s another one – she gets to be extra special, but there’s got to be a line somewhere.

My Summary: First books, then first books in a series always seem harder for me to review.  There’s potential here if the second book lets the characters sit on what was built here and tell a new story rather than try to add more bells and whistles – and new superpowers.  I’d like to learn about Maddy, but I want to know about her, not the things around her and if there’s going to be a love triangle or quadrangle, quit with the tease and making everyone either inaccessible or unpalatable.

My Rating: C-



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