Greg Stolze, Ashes and Angel Wings: Trilogy of the Fallen, #1 (White Wolf, 2003)

"What are you?" Keene asked, in the tone of a man who finds a cockroach in his birthday cake.

Every so often, I come across a novel which looks like it might be quite interesting, and turns out to be even better. Yes, friends, Ashes and Angel Wings is one such book. Itís a cinematically presented story, not unlike an episode of The Sopranos, but on acid. There's Mob culture, deranged psychopathic violence, stroppy fat men, dark humour, sexy women and some great dialogue in New Jersey accents. Then there are the angels, demons and still imprisoned Fallen. Some of these remember the past, others have lost the plot entirely and are making up their own scripts. The anti-hero of the story is Harvey Ciullo, one of lifeís losers who finds himself in serious trouble with the local Mob enforcer. But just when things look terminal, and Harvís had his brains blown out, his death takes an unexpected turn. Enter a fallen angel called Hasmed, who has recently escaped from Hell.

Even through the haze of drugs and terror, they believed. They saw the wings and heard the voice, and they believed.

Stolze is not yet among the best known authors, but heís at least as good as anyone currently writing, and better than most. Thereís lots of murky invention, in-depth characterisation and a coherence which is often missing from books written to a formula. All titles from this publisher are written in support of or based on existing products. To many writers, this would be a handicap, but Stolze has taken what heís been given, made the most of it, then craftily slipped in a few of his own obscure spices. A thoroughly nasty collection of misfits are played against one another, with the occasional glimpse into the kind of madness that makes us all shudder when we see it in the real world.

The manner in which Stolze depicts his angelic and demonic characters reacting to, and interacting with, the modern world, is superior to most whoíve used Biblical mythology as a source of inspiration. Like Greg Bear in Songs of Earth and Power, Greg Stolze wisely avoids portraying the Fallen as not much more than super- powered humanoids. What he strives to create is a sense of creatures who were old when humanity was in its infancy, and have an agenda to match. The supernatural characters are skillfully mixed with those who are entirely human, although often inhumane. The manipulation of humanity by angels, both good and bad, leads to an evocative exposition concerning the nature of evil.

When Boyer walked in, Hasmed stood and shook his hand. They exchanged a long, cool look. Boyer wasnít a big man. He was medium-tall, he was skinny, but he somehow gave the impression of being more vivid than other men. He was like a giant, tightly wound down to a smaller size and ready to burst if touched. He had the eyes of a rabid dog.

There is unfortunately a negative, which has been created by the publishers. For some reason White Wolf opted to use a font thatís significantly smaller than standard. It means you get more book for your buck, but it also makes the book physically tough to read. After asking around, Iím told that the problem has one of two explanations. Either it was a deliberate design choice, intended to save the publisher money by lowering the page count, and to hell with the eyesight of the readers. Or, someone just got lazy and scaled down the version used to print the hardback, without bothering to reset the type in a font that was comfortable to read at that size. I have 20-20 vision and I could only read this for short sessions, which was a shame, because most of the time I didn't want to put it down.

[Nathan Brazil]