Michelle Herbert reviews The Glorious Angels by Justina Robson…
The Glorious Angels is a compellingly complex novel that shifts between many different character perspectives; it feels like a flower slowly opening its petals before you get a clearer understanding of the way this world works. From the first chapter you are thrown immediately into the action, but it is an interesting way to meet the main characters of this story and means that you have to pay attention to who each character is, as you never know if they will be an important character further into the story.
There are a lot of different strands that this book follows but the main focus is on the lives of Tralane Huntingore and her daughters Minnabar and Isabeau. During The Glorious Angels we get to see each of these characters being tested in difficult circumstances some of them of their own making and others that they are thrown into. The first character we meet is Zharazin, a member of The Informancy, which is the Empire’s information gathering department. They know everything and have pledged their allegiance to the Empire first and foremost. There is a sense of mistrust between the major protagonists and I love that there is a mystique in never knowing who you can and can’t trust.
In this world the main species is humanity, who come in many recognisable shapes and forms although there are people who wield magic and other that cannot. The Karoo on the other hand have an almost mythological status and haven’t been seen in a very long time – most of what is known of them is inaccurate and there are huge gaps in humanity’s knowledge as to who and what they are. The humans of the Empire come from many different cultural backgrounds that have been subsumed as the Empire has grown. This has caused a loss of understanding with these cultures pasts and technological achievements.
The Empire is ruled by eight Empresses each with different personalities, skills and goals. Each rule a different city of The Empire, but are connected by something more than telepathy, which doesn’t mean that they are all in constant agreement, with some of the Empresses more dominant than others. Tralane lives in Glimshard whose Empress is Torada a young girl of sixteen, who in her short reign has brought decadence and complacency to the citizens within the city. The Empire is at war with an unseen enemy over an artefact buried some distance from the Empire’s boundaries.
This is a book of magic, but also bloodlines and odd technology where the people have forgotten most of the information they used to know. As in all Empires the characters are constantly in a struggle with power and intrigue, how it is gained and used. The secrets and lies that all of the characters hold on to in this story of sexual politics. The Empire is run by women and in most cases the society is matrilineal with respect and protection afforded to women. The men of the Empire (at least those in Glimshard) are allowed a certain amount of power in specific fields, but never more than that. Most of the characters that we meet are not bothered by this; it is just the way this world is, at least in the Empire. We do not find out too much about the humans that are not part of the Empire, although it is mentioned that most of these are patriarchal.
The gender balance of power in the Karoo is also with the more powerful females. It is much stricter on what the male and female roles are. The Karoo are playing the long game and fully intend to win, whether this is for their society as whole or for a strong individual we will just have to wait and see.
The Glorious Angels has a lot of twists and turns that allow us to fully immerse ourselves in the world that Justina Robson has created. This is a book where you will never be bored by the intricate detail built over time, there is action, intrigue, sex and fantastic characters that you will want to find out more about. It looks like Justina Robson has a long term game plan for where this story is going to end, but what a fantastic start The Glorious Angels makes.