Title: No Angel
Author: Helen Keeble
Genre: Comedy, YA Paranormal, Angels
Publication Date: October 8, 2013 (HarperTeen)
Source: ARC for review from the author
Synopsis: Rafael Angelos just got handed the greatest gift any teenage boy could ever dream of. Upon arriving at his new boarding school for senior year, he discovered that he is the ONLY male student. But what should have been a godsend isn’t exactly heaven on Earth.
Raffi’s about to learn that St. Mary’s is actually a hub for demons-and that he was summoned to the school by someone expecting him to save the day. Raffi knows he’s no angel-but it’s pretty hard to deny that there’s some higher plan at work when he wakes up one morning to discover a glowing circle around his head.
Helen Keeble’s debut novel, Fang Girl, has been praised for its pitch-perfect teen voice, and VOYA called it “refreshing and reminiscent of Louise Rennison’s Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series.” No Angel brings you angels and demons like you’ve never seen them-complete with the wry humor of Vladimir Tod, sinfully irreverent romance, and some hilariously demonic teenage dilemmas.
4/5 stars – A funnier take on angels than most, though the mythology can be baffling
Angels are bad for me. With maybe one or two exceptions, books that center on Judeo-Christian angel mythology usually kill me, but c’mon! Helen Keeble! How much I enjoyed Fang Girl + lovely author = I’m a sucker.
Rafael is kind of a douchebag, but it works because how douchey he can be never overpowers his personality. He’s got a good heart beneath the spot-on snark and when he gets too far out of line, there’s always someone ready to smack him in the back of the head and set him straight (usually Krystal or Faith). Seeing as he didn’t think very deeply into why students were being given guns and told to go to a shooting range when they got in trouble during one class, it’s also evident he has an Idiot Ball permanently glued to himself.
If you did a double take at the gun thing, don’t worry because I did too. I promise there’s a good explanation for it. It may not explain how parents never question a gun range and guns being on a prep school campus, but it explains why it’s there in the first place.
For the most part, the novel is slowly plotted, but it rarely feels as slow as it technically is. When the plot isn’t around to move us forward, Raf finds himself growing new appendages or discovering he has a lot more eyeballs than the average human being should. His research into this and incidents related to it all is what keeps us going in the meantime. When the plot does kick in, it becomes clear nothing is as it seems. There are enough twists and turns that everything we thought we knew at the beginning of No Angel is pretty much out the window by the end. And I mean everything.
There are just as many twists that make the novel’s mythology difficult to digest, sadly. I think of pentagrams (upside-down star in a circle) and pentacles (right-side-up star in a circle) as two different things. In No Angel, they are called the same thing. This is technically correct, but thanks to how I associate pentagrams with “evil” and pentacles with “good,” it seems a little strange to me that a pentagram was used to summon a guardian angel AND bring forth demons. And that makes sense to Raf, who has already been demonstrated to be a little brainless. A later reveal also makes the powers Raf comes into that much more confusing, It’s impossible to go into details because it’s a major spoiler, but the point in question doesn’t feel fully explained.
Then we come to what might be the most relieving element: the very low-key role romance plays. It seems like it plays a much stronger role when Raf meets Faith and starts to crush on her hardcore, but like I said, nothing is as it seems here. Believe it or not, it takes until the last page for Raf to take the first explicit step toward a romance with another character that has nothing to do with his angelic duties.
So all in all, anyone who enjoyed the way Keeble subverted, parodied, and generally poked tired tropes with fun results in Fang Girl will surely enjoy No Angel just as much. At this point, she could write just about anything and I would be willing to read it because I know she’s going to entertain me and make my head spin all the right ways.
HELEN’S FIVE FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT WRITING No Angel:
1. Researching angels in De coelesti hierarchy, a 5th Century text that was pretty much the foundation for orthodox Christian angelology. (no, I didn’t read it in the original Greek – I’m not THAT hardcore) It is awesome… and has ensured that I am never going to be able to read my favourite angel romance novels in quite the same way ever again.
Let’s put it this way: When you think “angel”, what comes to mind?
a. An ethereally handsome guy with big white wings and a noble expression
b. Two massive bicycle wheels jammed crossways into each other, set on fire, and COVERED IN EYES
Thanks to De coelesti hierarchy, I now have to tick option b.
2. The Headmistress, a long-suffering, take-no-prisoners teacher with the brain of a supercomputer, a heart of solid granite and a tongue of pure battery acid. It’s awfully fun to write someone that witheringly sarcastic!
3. The many romances. In my previous book, Fang Girl, the main character is far too pragmatic and practical — not to mention busy running for her life — to do anything more than have a tiny flirt with romance. In contrast, No Angel revolves around the main characters’ love-lives – off the top of my head, there are at least seven different romances going on, and I’ve probably forgotten some! I enjoyed the opportunity to explore many different sorts of relationships, from platonic first crush through to forbidden passion. And of course, there’s true love…
4. In the middle of all the romantic comedy, I got to break out my inner math geek and explain something really awesome about geometry. No, really. (it’s ok, I promise there aren’t any equations)
5. Rafael Angelos, the spectacularly handsome and completely in-over-his-head hero of No Angel. He’s a good guy at heart, but he does have a small flaw of being utterly convinced that he’s God’s Gift to Girlkind. He’s so over-confident about his irresistible attractiveness, and I took great sadistic pleasure in putting him into dreadful situations because of it!