Review by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team
Coming out to your parents is hard. Especially when they’re 300-year-old vampire demons out to rule the world.
I kid you not. And I confess, I love the way that the author takes Bram Stoker’s Dracula and reweaves it into a plausible tale of controlling parents and a long-suffering son. The relationship between Radu, Constantin and Alaya is a lynchpin in the story, in terms of both action and emotion.
Alex Beecroft has created a tour-de-force of romantic adventure, surprisingly low on the romance and high on creative gruesomeness. I will say up front that you really must buy both Sons of Devils and Angels of Istanbul and read them at a go. If I have a criticism to level, it’s at Anglerfish Press, for assuming that Beecroft’s readers are too dim to read a 500 page book. Arising (assuming there aren’t more books in this world to come) is a fascinating, beautifully written, page-turning epic novel. Both books are essential and the arbitrary division at the end of Sons of Devils was infuriating.
That said, I loved this and would have given it five stars except for a structural issue that I think weakens the overall story. The epilogue of the first book is a rather gratuitously gruesome scene (well done, for all that) that ultimately has nothing to do with the rest of the story, except as a plot-driver. As a cliffhanger it is an irritant, because the British really have no role in the novels at all except for being the excuse that brings the rest of the narrative into focus. I suspect that if Beecroft hadn’t been forced to make two books out of one, this would have been less significant, at least to me as a reader.
What really makes this book shine is Beecroft’s ability to paint vivid, gorgeously detailed settings without getting lost in pointless description. Additionally, she gives us five characters, each very different, who coalesce over the course of the second book into a powerful group of allies who begin to understand and forgive each other for their very different approaches to the world. At the center of the tale is Radu Vacarescu, provincial nobleman and beleaguered child of the ancient vampires. Frank Carew, exiled heir to an English earldom, is a scholar of magic. Ekaterina Sterescu is the daughter of a Bucharest aristocrat and skilled hostess of a salon for the study of magic. Mirela Badi is a Roma servant girl, determined to find her family and live her own life. Finally, Zayd Ibn Rahman is a young Turkish scholar, guardian of a Muslim saint’s tomb complex, who yearns to understand this new world of magic in which he lives while being a faithful follower of Mohammad and his sultan.
As the story moves from Bucharest to Istanbul, and Radu begins to realize that the monsters who raised him are not what he has always imagined them to be, the true mettle of our plucky band is tested to its fullest. Each of these folks has a kind of magic very different from the others, and none of them truly understands their skill, because the Arising only occurred a decade earlier and magic is not yet well studied. Beyond this, the way they all feel about each other is complicated, to say the least. Frank drowns in his own self-doubt and sense of failure. Ekaterina begins the second book on a mission to assassinate Radu, only to discover that he’s not quite the demon she saw before. Radu doesn’t fully comprehend that his weakest link is the strigoi’s emotional control over him. Mirela is only out for herself, having been despised and a slave to the Wallachian nobility all her life. She begins to understand her companions differently as she sees them fight for the soul of Istanbul in the face of terrible odds. Finally, Zayd is somewhat the outlier; a devout Muslim who has no knowledge of the Christian vassals of the Ottoman empire. He must step outside the narrow world that expects unthinking obedience, and understand his own potential strength as a magician and as a force of peace in a world all too given to bloodshed and prejudice.
In short, Angels of Istanbul is a marvelous book when read with its companion volume, Sons of Devils. Beecroft gives dedicatory nods to both Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, whose books I know well. What she has done that they did not do, is transpose ideas of magic and faith into the known historical world, turning it upside down only insofar as she needs to in order to set her plot and her characters going. I think it is a far harder thing to do to impose fantasy upon history than to simply create a new world where one can do as one pleases.