Armageddon Outta Here…
♦ Peter Mann reviews the new novel from Tripwire writer Jack Graves
After the Angels by Jack Graves, Engineering Works, £12.99/$17.99 (Print edition) £2.99/$3.99 (E-book edition), £0.00/$.0.00 (Kindle Unlimited)
It’s not often that the person you work with appears to grow another head. Not a different head, you understand. Another head next to the one they already have.
I’m saying this to give you some idea of the way I felt when Tripwire co-worker Jack Graves blithely informed me that he’d written a novel.
Not just any novel…
A 150,000-word novel that involved a post-apocalyptic Britain set in the early days of the 20th century. Mr Graves is known to readers of Tripwire for his part as half of the live blogging team (with myself) for Doctor Who, until neither of us could stand it any longer. He is also the man who aroused the ire of Alan Moore fans for suggesting that Crossed 100 was less than awesome in We’ve Got To Talk About Alan… He cruelly detailed how Josh Gad f*cked Q*bert in Q*bert’s Career Low.
He’s a man of strong opinions then. So how does his own writing stand up?
Sadly, for those potentially hurt by the above screeds, extraordinarily well.
And Jack Graves isn’t writing about any old post-apocalyptic Britain. This Britain has been visited by the Grigori, the mysterious eighth order of Angels created by God to be earthly shepherds to the first humans. The Grigori have helped mankind prepare for the Angels’ arrival on the fields of Armageddon to subjugate mankind. The Grigori have gifted humans with both technology, and mysterious workshops that allow them to improve that technology, setting the scene for an immense conflict between the Angels and mankind. Graves combines ideas from various sources – esoteric philosophy, the Apocrypha, religious pseudographia, the Kabbalah – to create an alternative reality which is extraordinary in its breadth, depth, and detail.
So, a bit of a hard read then?
No, it’s not. If not for the fact that I’d feel I was maligning the quality of the writing, I’d call it a thriller. The Angels won the war against humanity, despite losing the Archangel Michael to humanity’s advanced weaponry, and settled most of humanity in golden cities. These humans are fed with manna, a mysterious substance that seems to fulfil their needs, while having other, more unsettling, effects. However, because some of humanity fight on using guerrilla tactics, the Angels’ mission is extended and the chaotic nature of the Earth begins to affect these creatures of order in unforeseen ways.
As we start the book, what seems like a robbery by the team of bandits led by The Sergeant, The Butcher, and their comrades, becomes a perilous journey across the remains of post-war Europe, as the band attempts to deliver a precious cargo to the remnants of free humanity, gathered near the Adriatic Sea in a titanic structure: The Calypso Deep. As The Sergeant and her bandits journey across the wasteland of Europe they are constantly challenged: cannibals, Angels, nuclear wastelands, and the spectres of demons real and (possibly) unreal that haunt The Sergeant and The Butcher.
Buried deep beneath the Calypso Deep lies part of the answer to why the Angels have invaded the Earth. Using that secret, humanity plans to reclaim their planet.
This is an extraordinary book. There are no chapter numbers or names, simply icons that indicate whether you are in the present, the past, or focusing on one of the characters. This gives the book a seamless narrative, and despite its length, while reading it you seem to be in an accelerated reality:
Although After the Angels deals with complex ideas about faith, religion, and the nature of sin, there is no heavy-handedness about the treatment. There are bad people who do good things, and equally, there are good people who do bad things. The triumph of the writing is to make us understand why people do these things at all. From the most important character – The Sergeant, a woman who has multiple personal reasons for her crusade – to the most minor, each character has their own motivations and their own behaviours. There are no cookie-cutter stereotypes here. The Butcher, in particular, a para-human (I don’t want to say more than that – spoilers) is a finely developed character, and his history provides the book with a visceral chill worthy of H.P. Lovecraft.
It ’s a testament to the quality of the writing that despite the book’s length, you wish it was longer – a unanimous response from early readers of the book in proof. Personally, I’d compare it to the work of China Miéville, especially Perdido Street Station (if you took out the overwriting). At least part of the reason you wish it was longer is the quality of the world building. At the end of the book, you realise that you’ve only seen a small amount of the effects the Grigori have had on the Earth. You are aware that other parts of the planet – the Americas, Asia, Australia – may have developed in a completely different manner to that of Europe. Although there are no loose ends in the book, this means you still leave it wanting to know more about this extraordinary world.
And now I have to look at Jack, and wonder what the heck’s going on in his head…
Whichever of them he’s using.
Full disclosure: I typeset and designed this book at Mr Graves’ request, nay, insistence. I suspect it’s because I’m cheap.
You can buy After the Angels from these fine people: