They’re heavenly, or hellish, but tales about angels are joining vampire sagas on the bestseller shelves
“Angels are all around us,” reads the publisher’s blurb for Angel, the first of a British trilogy of books for teenagers. “Their beauty is intoxicating, their presence awe-inspiring, their energy irresistible. Angel fever is spreading.”
And this spring an angelic host does seem to have taken over a key sector of the book industry, with at least seven new literary series about angels targeted at young adults published here and in America, and two further bestselling titles dominating the European market.
The publication of Angel, written by L.A. Weatherly, an established children’s writer from Hampshire, will be followed next year by two sequels, Angel Heat and Angel Burn. They imagine a world where the “potent magnetism” of these “stunning beings” is not what it seems. Far from benevolent forces, Weatherly’s angels are “despicable creatures” who must be destroyed by the book’s hero, Alex, to stop them “feasting lustily on the energy of innocent victims”. For Alex, “the only good angel is a dead angel”.
Comparisons with the vogue for teenage stories about vampires are obvious. Just like their blood-sucking supernatural cousins, angels are half-human visitors who can both fly and usefully suggest the mysterious adult world of sexuality that lies beyond. It is a thought that appears to have simultaneously occurred to authors and publishers searching for a new cult reading trend. “I had this idea that I thought was really original,” said Weatherly, “and then it seems that everyone else had the same idea at the same time, although hopefully not with angels being evil.”
Cambridge-educated author Bryony Pearce, from Bedfordshire, was also drawn to the subject. Her new novel, Angel’s Fury, is published by Egmont early next year and concentrates on the grim notion that a fallen angel is walking the earth to “bring mankind to its destruction”. Pearce’s story was inspired by the malevolent nephilim of the Old Testament and serves as a reminder that the subject of angels is potentially much more complicated than vampiric lore and has been intriguing readers for 3,000 years.
Two British academics with new books out about the theology and mystique of angels are very aware of the complexities involved. David Albert Jones’s Angels: A History looks at the origins of the modern concept of angels and their many popular reinventions. “People can project their own meanings on to angels,” he says, “and this makes them perfect for young people and for the adolescent age we live in, an age when we are looking for things to believe in… They have all the ingredients for people who want to take something from established religion, but not in a way that ties them down.” A theology, philosophy and history professor at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham, Jones also accepts, he says, the saccharine and superstitious modern faith in angels as part of a strong spiritual tradition of seeking truth in unusual places.
Joad Raymond, of the University of East Anglia, is equally happy to watch the growing interest in cherubim and seraphim. Professor Raymond, author of Milton’s Angels, suspects angels have now been released from the confines of orthodox religion and as a result writers feel confident to play with them. “Angels have become particularly accessible in recent generations. Before that, they were discussed only strictly theologically,” he said. “A couple of hundred years ago it would have been a risk to write about them because they were still regarded as real. Now they are almost seen as fairies.” Like Jones, Raymond sees angels as more fertile imaginative ground than vampires and he puts their appeal down to their superior status: “On the ladder that goes up from the mushroom to God, angels are one rung above us.” He thinks, too, that the success of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, with its influences from Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost may be behind the recent trend.
Authors such as Weatherly focus on the romance and drama. “I am not getting into religion and the whole Judeo-Christian tradition. I concentrate really on their heartbreaking beauty,” said the author. “Angels are outsiders and I write about finding the one person who understands you.”
European teen hits by writers such as Laura Gallego García, whose Two Candles for the Devil is hugely popular in Spain, and the aptly named Italian writer, Dorotea De Spirito, also tell stories of youthful desire. De Spirito’s book, Angel, charts the love between an angel and a demon and wonders, “will their opposite natures keep them forever apart?”
The origins of this incoming flock of winged messengers can be traced back to American author Lisa Jane Smith, who wrote Dark Angel in 1996. Following in her wake have come bestselling author Becca Fitzpatrick, whose first novel, Hush, Hush, is about a fallen angel called Patch, and the New Orleans-born writer Cate Tiernan, whose Immortal Beloved trilogy is due to be published by Little, Brown over the next three years.
Baltimore novelist Elizabeth Chandler brought out the first of her romantic trilogy, Kissed by an Angel, in 2008. Last year there was a comic approach from another US writer, Sharon Creech, who wrote about an angel undergoing an identity crisis in The Unfinished Angel, while Danielle Trussoni’s manuscript for Angelology sold to the publishers Viking Press for a six-figure sum and has been optioned by Will Smith’s film production company. Her book focused on the dark angels mentioned in Genesis and explored in the Book of Enoch, a non-canonical book of the Bible. Trussoni is now at work on the second book of the series, Angelopolis. Any angel assassins patrolling the skies, like Weatherly’s hero Alex, have got their work cut out.