Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: Flaming Dove by Daniel Arenson

Rating: 4 out of 5

This will be my first review that uses my new rating system. I am now judging a book by four criteria – plot, character development, writing style (punctuation, grammar, use of writing devices, etc), and how much the story affected me. These will all be best-of-twenty-five, and when those scores are added together, I come up with the overall rating.

There, that should explain it.

All of which brings me to my latest review – “Flaming Dove” by Daniel Arenson. Now, I read and reviewed Mr. Arenson’s first novel, “Firefly Island”, some time ago. I loved that book. It was everything I was searching for in my fiction. So when his latest book arrived in my Kindle, I thought, “oh yes, here we are, give me more.”

Flaming Dove is the story of Laila, a woman born half-demon, half-angel, during the outset of Armageddon. She is the quintessential loner, existing on the outskirts of what society is remaining after war between heaven and hell broke out on earth, with only her trusted wolf, Volkfair, for companionship. She is surly and a creature without a place to call home, a fact that the novel drives into your head early and often. She fights with modern weapons and kills angels and demons equally, reinforcing the point that she is a woman who belongs to no one. She is, to make a long story short, a wild card in this seemingly endless war.

It seems that heaven and hell have come to a stalemate, you see, and the opposing generals, Beelzebub (who has killed Lucifer to take hold the mantle of hell’s ruler) and the archangel Michael, his brother, are desperate to find an edge, or a loophole, that they can exploit. And both of them look to Laila as being that edge. From the beginning, the battle is on to lure her to one side or the other. Who should Laila choose, being that no matter who wins, she is pretty much screwed? This, to me, was the most interesting part of the novel. This is a creature that has no stake in the outcome, and yet that outcome means everything. It was quite entertaining to watch her flip and flop through her decisions, trying to come up with a satisfying answer to the hardest question of all: where do I belong?

There are huge battles and small, sincere moments that lure the reader in. Most superbly done are Laila’s attack on hell for the former and the struggles of Laila’s sister, the angelic Bat El, as she experiences love for the first time – with a demon, no less – and weighs the consequences of her ultimate decision.

Here it is. Decisions. Much as with Firefly Island, decisions made and not made once again compose the root of Arenson’s novel. Unlike that previous book, however, I found myself not as interested in the outcomes of these decisions. And the reason for this is simple.


This is a story of angels and demons pitted against each other. In the whole length of the book, there were two humans introduced, and only one of which who was in any way important to the plot. This confused me. This is Armageddon we’re talking about here, the ultimate face-off to decide the fate of man. And yet, there are no people to be seen. This struck me as an odd way to approach things, for what we get are two opposing sides fighting for what is pretty much a useless, destroyed hunk of rock. Now, I understand that humans have fought for much the same thing over the history of our species, and I assume the point was to paint both sides as being no better than we are – flawed, deceitful, full of pride, and easily wounded. This is all well and good, and I applaud the effort, but the problem a tale such as this has is that you’re fighting the religious stereotypes that have been passed down for thousands of years. Angels reflect the good, demons the bad. Sure, there are biblical stories of angels being less than completely pious, but still there is the assumption that, come the end of the day, they are righteous. To paint them as otherwise is a slippery slope and difficult to pull off.

In certain ways, the author does succeed. I found myself caring about all the peripheral characters, Beelzebub and Bat El more than all. And this took skill. However, with both sides being flawed and hard to root for, not to mention almost indistinguishable from each other, the novel must rely on Laila to carry the word of the day.

For the most part, she is up to the challenge. She is presented, as I said earlier, as a jaded loner. Actually, in almost every way she is the picture of humanity, which makes the decision to cut out the human element of the plot all the more bothersome. Because at the end of the day, though she is much like us, she is still a powerful (and immortal) being with claws, wings, and a halo of fire. This makes her, even in her state of emotional unrest, somewhat difficult to relate to, which also makes the themes the author is trying to get across fall a bit flat.

As for those themes, I get it. There is no such thing as pure good and evil. However, I simply don’t feel like it was unveiled well enough to strike a poignant chord in me. Also, these themes, as well as other things, are repeated, time after time, which can get a bit tiresome. I understand that Laila has no home, that she feels as if she doesn’t belong anywhere. I understand that blades glint, scales shimmer, and both angels and demons have wings. To bring these points up time and again makes the writing stagnate, which doesn’t aid when trying to keep a reader entrenched in the writer’s world.

Now, I understand that this review sounds like I’m blasting the novel. I’m not trying to. I did enjoy it, only not as much as I thought I should have. You see, Arenson is a supremely talented writer. Even with what I see to be bad decisions in regards to the plot and execution of the story, it is imminently readable. The battle scenes are epic, the dialogue flows smoothly. The characters were fleshed out and believable. The emotional chords between a girl who’s never loved and a man who’s loved too much are heartbreaking. The ending shocked me with its power. (Though this book will forever end at chapter 21 for me, because the last chapter seemed like piling on, preaching, and trying to set up a possible sequel) But I wanted more. Especially after reading Firefly Island, I expected it.

At the end of the day, even with all my ranting, Flaming Dove is a good book. It will keep you turning the page and make you care for the people who inhabit it. My problem is that it’s not great.

But then again, that could be only me. You might think differently. So check it out, because even with its faults it is worth the price of admission.

Plot – 9

Characters – 7

Voice – 9

Execution - 9

Personal Enjoyment – 6

Overall - 40/50 (4.0/5)

Buy Flaming Dove for the Amazon Kindle

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