This is not your usual 5 star review. I’m not really a Kyell Gold fan; in the past I’ve been critical of his writing. Not this time. Not this book.
The first chapter captured me. I had the opportunity to hear the author read it and Meg’s character was alive. She boldly lets you know who she is, she’s damn proud of that and you’re going to have to deal with it. The rest of the book sucked me in with the writing quality. This book sings. “Black Angel” is three separate narratives braided together, and I immediately loved Hannah and Marie-Belle’s tales. There the stories are immediately more intriguing, but also the descriptive prose purrs in ways I haven’t seen from Gold before. Kudos to Gold for stepping outside his usual and writing a story with three female protagonists.
As with most of the author’s work, sexual identity is quite important in two of the three stories, that of Meg’s confusion and conflict with asexuality and Hannah’s budding lesbianism set in a very oppressive Christian cult. I have trouble connecting with these elements, and that is a disconnect that is okay, because not every story is for everyone. What resonated with me was Meg’s struggle with her mental issues. There is a point where she is in true crisis and has no idea which way is up. To many people who have dealt with mental illness that is quite real. It left me feeling like Meg was a comrade in arms and for that I love this book.
“Black Angel” is not without its flaws. The biggest one for me is, strangely, Meg’s character. Consider she is: irritable by default; hostile to anyone expressing interest in her life; carries a “whatever, I don’t care” attitude; and only shows rare and grudging appreciation. Meg is a crank, the dog who growls at any passerby, 30 years away from chasing kids off her lawn with a broom. How she manages to have any friends is beyond me. This makes for a hard character to read at times. It also hampers things from a story perspective. She refuses to tell anyone anything unless she is absolutely cornered. This not only leads to a lot of needless stalling of the story, but because Meg is so guarded, it turns every interaction into an over-analysis of “what does this person mean, what do they want, what should I say, what can I tell them, what will THAT mean to them”. Yes, characters with flaws that get in their way and complicate things makes good fiction, but her inability to trust is taken to the level of becoming an exhausting grind. Thank goodness the Marie-Belle and Hannah narratives offer some respite from that. Also, I quickly lost patience with Athos. While he clearly cares a lot about his friend, every scene the two are together, Athos is asking her what’s wrong multiple times. She cannot hiccup without him hovering over her. While yes, Meg is going through a crisis, Athos gives her so little space to breathe that I felt smothered.
These frustrations are forgiven for the final leg of the book. Those last chapters are excellent. Also kudos to Gold for stepping outside his usual and writing a book with three female protagonists.
I must speak about Max Miller, the audiobook narrator. His voice acting was divine. TouTou, the Baron, and Jeffrey leap out as the best in the book, but his consistently excellent voicework, both male and female, made the experience that much more for me.
While I did set the book down when things get frustrating, or when they got too hard and dark, more often I stopped reading because I didn’t want to finish the book too soon. It is meant to be savored. Or as the Baron would say, it should be enjoyed as one of the pleasures of life.