Surrender the Dark

Surrender the DarkBy L.A. Banks

Publisher: Pocket
Publication Date: March 29, 2011
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Publisher

Celeste Jackson has fought all her life against a fog of hallucination and substance abuse, but it’s not until she meets her protector, Azrael, an angel who has left the safety of the Light, that she learns of the evil forces that have been trying to ruin her, and why. A fierce battle for control of the mortal realm is brewing, and only Celeste—with the help of the Remnant, her half-human, half-angel brethren—can stand in the way. Together, Celeste and Azrael must gather an army of sensitives to defeat the dark powers that have ruled humanity for centuries, but time is running out. If Azrael surrenders to his growing desire for Celeste, he risks being trapped among humanity forever. But the longer he stays, the harder she is to resist. To save the world, Celeste must draw on her own dark experiences with addiction to help Azrael overcome the one temptation that could possibly make him an eternal prisoner—his obsession with her.

Goodreads Summary

Celeste Jackson is a mess.  Living with an abusive, drug-addicted boyfriend in a roach-infested apartment where her only escape comes from a bottle of vodka and a smoke she sneaks in the bathroom, her life has been one continuous downward spiral.  Convinced she sees things behind people’s faces, she’s been called crazy and placed under her aunt Niecy’s guardianship.  Now she’s just numb to it all and when her boyfriend starts to smack her around this time, she stands up to him.  He can kill her or she’ll kill him, but it ends now.  When she attacks him, she’s able to jump through the window to escape – and looking back, she sees a demon separate from his body and kill him.

Azrael has been chosen to fall to earth and become flesh to search for a Remnant, a descendant of a Fallen Angel and a human with the power of Sway.  When he finds Celeste, she’s on the run, thinking that the cops are looking for her for killing her boyfriend.  She doesn’t believe one word of his “angel sent to find you,” story in spite of his being able to get into a locked church and a locked grocery store but begins to believe when he works a bigger miracle by charming her Aunt Niecy.  Azrael helped her cleanse her body of it’s pollutants and once he did, his explanations of his origins, of her past and of the way things in the world fall into place in the cosmic plan begin to make sense to her.

Attraction and romance bloomed between Azrael and Celeste as they travel to New York to meet up with other angels, but danger is still all around them – Master Demon Nathaniel is intent on destroying her before she could join the other remaining Remnants and attain full use of her Sway.

This looks like an urban fantasy, right?  I believe it’s being marketed as one – the ending is sort of one, which may lead to the second book being more of one.  This was like auditing a college theology class that was interrupted by a Mayan studies professor who was interrupted by a social studies teacher who was interrupted by a crazy person.  Under that was an interesting story, but it was buried so deeply that after a while, I lost interest in it.

The Good: the simple story.  Celeste begins as a woman whose life is littered with the results of bad choices and social oppression; she’s shown that she can cleanse herself of her past and start over, that she has inner strength and power and can defeat her enemies.  Instead of chaining herself over and over to bad men, that inner beauty and strength calls to a good man, one that treats her well, falls in love with her and is willing to risk everything to be with her.

The Bad: the overly-wordy, slow plot pacing.  Huge amounts of space are devoted to things like picking out clothes from the church’s donation bins, riding through a train tunnel, Azrael break-dancing and the excruciatingly long scenes that had to be read in order for Azrael and Celeste just to get somewhere for action related to the story to take place.  The romance between Azrael and Celeste made me uncomfortable at first, given that his attraction to her was clearly spelled out as a reaction to her growing power in places.  When they did decide to be together, it was sudden and at a very convenient place in the plot.

The Ugly: the story is crushed by its religious, environmental and social messages.  The generally-accepted mythos of angels and nephilim is mostly left alone, but God has been turned into the gender-neutral the Source of All That Is, people like Celeste who are descended from angels have twelve strands of DNA, Eve came before Adam and the Throne of God is actually the Milky Way. We’ve lost the ability to clearly communicate with the Source of All That Is and angels because we’re contaminating our bodies with bad food, alcohol and drugs – only by Celeste cleaning hers with uncooked fruits and vegetables is she able to finally see clearly, after all.  The 1985 bombing of the MOVE apartment house in Philadelphia, where 6 adults and 5 children died, has now been attributed to demons trying to break Celeste’s will (she apparently was a tenant in the building).  These are small examples and barely skim the surface.

Once Azrael finds Celeste, there are not a handful of pages that go by without a religious message being delivered, usually a lengthy and confusing one.  When it gets too convoluted, Azrael usually tells Celeste, “but you don’t need to know that.”  I wish he’d have said it more because he lost me a lot.

My Summary: I didn’t expect to be preached to, especially not in an urban fantasy, but that’s exactly what I came away feeling.  I wasn’t sure I was going to finish this, but I kept waiting for it to stop being about the message and get to the story.  It did actually become something of an urban fantasy – but only with about fifty pages left in the book.  It wasn’t nearly enough to make this worth reading.

My Rating: F