Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
Sacred Vengeance is a thrilling, fun, and exciting Christian action-adventure/romance novel by Evangaline Pierce. You don't have to be religious or spiritual to enjoy and appreciate this book. It is energetic, entertaining, and universal in the topics it touches, mainly love and loss.
The story follows Alle Venega, an ailing mother who has experienced profound losses in her life including that of her husband and unborn child. Alle is driven into a very dark place and nearly to suicide until a fortuitous real-estate advertisement gives her the idea of moving away and starting anew.
Along the way, she learns of the existence of angels, demons, and a whole bunch of other spiritual stuff!
Yes, it turns out that there's a lot more to this story than coping with personal loss, although that seems to be a huge inspiration for the story. It goes from being a Lifetime TV movie to being an episode of Supernatural. Make of that what you will, but we were rather enjoying and emotionally invested in the heartbreaking, realistic story until it became full-blown Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue meets Princess Diaries meets Ghostbusters meets Twilight meets Harry Potter with a tinge of The Holy Bible and the Book of Enoch mixed in there.
(Don't take the Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue comparison as an insult, the demon hunting and villain characters in that series were top-notch).
Now, with all that said, all this supernatural and spiritual stuff doesn't just come out of the blue. There are subtle hints near the beginning of the book that something otherworldly might be amiss. For example, one of the first things the married couple (Alle and Runar) does is visit a cemetery with a long, storied history of being haunted. Alle is unimpressed and doesn't seem to take much of it seriously, even scoffing at the tour guide being paid so much just “to walk around and talk about ghosts.” It is said that Alle is skeptical of the evidence of any supernatural phenomena.
All the while, Runar is far more interested and in tune with this stuff. It is said that he is a fan of ghost hunting shows and supernatural stuff, and we eventually learn why.
The one thing that Alle seems to relate to and sympathize with is the ghost story about a trapped little girl ghost. In fact, she is told that there's a little ghost sitting right there in her lap... The book's first of many, many, many, many dun duuun duuuuuun moments.
It is quite interesting to consider Alle's arc as she grows to accept that reality is crazier than it physically appears; there is a world outside our world, one that intersects with and influences our world. She goes from a complete skeptic to a believer.
It is similar to Jack Shepherd's character arc in Lost, developing from a smug realist like his drunken doctor dad to an enlightened spiritualist like the fanatical John Locke character.
With her life collapsing and the walls caving in, Alle is slipped a dagger by a hunky-hunk of a man and told that she will have to fight... and fight she shall, in between a few high jinks.
Nothing is what it seems in this book. This book is filled to the brim with twists, turns, and dun duuun duuuuuun moments. It might be a little too twisty and too turny for some, but if you really dig those types of stories, you might really enjoy this. It can be very exciting to read at times because you never quite know what's up or who's really pulling the strings. Yes, even when it's explicitly stated that the “Prince of Darkness” is involved, he's not alone in making Alle's life a figurative and literal hell. There are a lot of parties in this paranormal party. There are a lot of things to keep you guessing.
There is something about Alle and her arc that seem a little wonky. Part of it is that, despite ghosts, angels, and demons clearly standing right in front of her, Alle's personality remains incredibly unserious, playful, and naive. You could make the argument that this is a perfect contrast to her actual persona, and that this is all just a facade like the one Vash uses in Trigun to bury his sorrows and the fact that he is a “killing machine” and a “humanoid typhoon.” We can definitely understand that, especially since Alle, like Vash, is a dangerous, capable person under that hokey, somewhat annoying demeanor.
There are times in this book in which Alle, despite being a fully-grown woman, talks and acts like a hormonal 13-year-old. She is constantly cracking jokes, saying childish things (like comparing the angels to the seven dwarves from Snow White), and distracted by Gabriel's physique and utter hotness. Keep in mind, this is a character who is supposed to be embodying vengeance and is supposed to be trying to save her daughter, Lani, from being lost to the demons forever. However, she seems to have a whole lot of time to joke around, ask dumb questions, flirt, and play leap frog & grab butt with Gabriel. Something about that bothered us a little. That's not to say they're a bad couple or that they're bad characters (they are compelling enough), but they lose a little bit of the edge they would've otherwise had if things had been written differently.
Alle can come across as a silly, lovesick goofball. It can be cute and endearing to an extent. And, to her credit, she is a really good person. You'd be shocked at how often we're unable to say that about other protagonists we've encountered, many of whom who are either selfish and/or self-centered. Alle is self-sacrificing, kind, and caring. Also, despite her great importance, she isn't arrogant or proud. You could argue that she's prouder to just be a mother than she is to be special. So, you could say she has a good heart. She just happens to have a personality and presentation that can become cloying after a while.
Some Alle-isms include:
“Is this a baby monster?”
“...hostest with the mostest”
“Are angels like the seven dwarves?”
“No deal, dude.”
“Jiminy Cricket, do you own any shirts?”
She is constantly doing things like giggling, eliciting eye-rolls from Gabriel, and thirsting over him.
There is so much thirsting. Alle is suffering a drought more severe than in the entire history of the Sahara Desert. Lake Michigan couldn't satiate this woman's thirst. If it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, she'd still want a pint of that scrumptious Gabriel nectar.
Even some descriptions of the book describe Gabriel as Alle's “too-gorgeous, totally off-limits guardian angel.” So, maybe we made the mistake of not reading the description and bracing ourselves first.
The relationship between Alle and Gabriel is one of the pillars of this book, alongside saving Lani. The thing is, there's something about their relationship that seems a little bit off, which is ironic since that's clearly the exact opposite of what the author intended. The author clearly intended for their relationship to be cute, natural (practically instinctual), and playful, embodied in how lighthearted and humorous their dialogue is despite the circumstances they find themselves in.
At first sight, Alle immediately finds herself drawn to Gabriel, even before knowing anything else about him (other than that he has the leanness and musculature of a stage-ready bodybuilder). So, that's kinda where the Twilight comparisons come in. The way that Alle constantly and immediately fawns over Gabriel—the way she views him in the most idealized way possible—breaks up the realism a little bit, even granted the big surprise. The problem is in getting to the big surprise and struggling in confusion on the way there. Keep in mind, it's only with the knowledge gained in the end that you can truly appreciate the whole marathon in the middle, and that marathon in the middle—meanwhile—can feel shaky. The relationship feels shaky because the author knows something that we don't until very later on.
There's also something about this book that reminded us of Taylor Mill Horror, a ”true” horror story by Austin Lawrence in which the main characters are constantly harassed by ghosts/demons that claim to be Satan and Be'elzebub. Why would the king and prince of hell waste so much of their precious time and energy tormenting some random family in the middle of Kentucky?
We felt the same way about Gabriel and the other angels. Do they seriously have nothing better to do? This is Gabriel—one of the two most prominent and important angels in the entire Holy Bible--the dude who told Mary she was going to give birth to Jesus, the dude who explained one of Daniel's world-shaking visions to him—yet he has time to Pureflix and chill like this?
In all fairness, it's not like other TV shows, movies, and books haven't tried to humanize these spiritual beings in the past. This is certainly not the worst—far from it. We just find it hard to believe that this is THE Gabriel. Gabriel in The Bible always knew what was going on. No, he wasn't omniscient, but he was like the National Enquirer or Prince Harry or Dave Meltzer or the guy that Jake Gyllenhaal played in Nightcrawler; Gabriel always had the inside scoop.
This version of Gabriel seems so... limited. He always says he can't do something or doesn't know something. He even says the Elders (from the Book of Revelations) have access to things and information that he doesn't. Like, we get that God is God and that the angels have their limits, but... next to Michael, Gabriel is THE arch-angel. And, like we said before, if one thing defined him, it was that he was insightful.
Like, compare Gabriel's dialogue in this book to Gabriel's dialogue in Daniel chapter 8. The Gabriel in The Bible speaks with authority and absolute confidence. He knows what's going on, even more so than one of the greatest prophets who ever lived (Daniel).
Daniel had prophetic visions that would've blown Moses, Elijah, and Joseph off their rockers, yet he got schooled by Bible-Gabriel. Meanwhile, Sacred-Vengeance-Gabriel says things like, “You think my wings are beautiful?” and blushes (with a double emphasis on the fact that he blushes). The fact that he even has to ask Alle something like that is a huge break in character. How he behaves like a confused 16-year-old schoolboy afterward practically shatters it.
Like, this can't be the same guy. It just can't. And we wondered if, perhaps, it might not be. We wondered if this might just be another angel who just so happens to be named Gabriel. Well, no. This is the arch-angel Gabriel. His brother, Lex, confirms it. And, yes, he has a near-identical brother named Lex. And, like every hot male character in fiction these days, his brother is also very hot and much more edgy. We've noticed that has become a trope with these romance novels. You can't have a hot male character if he doesn't have a hot male brother.
But we digress. This book really got us thinking and talking. That's an achievement in and of itself. We actually reread it about three to four times each, and it took us about three days, a lot longer than most books. That's largely because it gave us so much to talk and think about, but also that it lost us at times and we need needed to start over to gain additional context. Sometimes you just have to back up in order to drive over a bump in the road, and we found ourselves doing that.
The more times you go through this book, the more things will reveal themselves to you.
In total fairness, we're definitely overthinking this whole thing and being hard on something that is actually very good.
For the target audience (probably 16 to 24-year-old fans of YA fantasy romance novels), this book might be in the top 35-40% of books. The writing is solid. We didn't notice any errors. The concept is very reminiscent of something like Supernatural, and can be incredibly exciting and interesting to some, particularly if they don't take all the theology and esoteric stuff too seriously.
If you do take theology and esoteric stuff seriously, you will probably find things in this book that bother you a lot. That's probably normal. It would be like trying to convince someone at NASA that Star Wars is a realistic take on space travel rather than a source of entertainment. This is really a source of entertainment, something to escape into.
Knowing too much or being too involved in this esoteric stuff is kinda a curse. You can't fully enjoy something like Supernatural or Sacred Vengeance when all you're thinking is, “Look how they massacred my boy” (i.e. my narrow, dogmatic, pre-defined views on how spiritual stuff works is challenged or not being portrayed 'properly').
One thing that bugged us more than it should have is the idea that the Nephilim (half-demon giants) were the ancestors to the Mongols and Genghis Khan, who are painted in the worst light possible.
Maybe they deserve the negative press, they killed millions and did a lot of other terrible things beside murder. However... maybe one of us just so happens to be Mongolian and descended from Genghis Khan? There are something like 200 million Khan descendants alive today, one of them will inevitably read this and be like, “Wait, so, I'm a Nephilim now? Can I... put it on my resume or something?"
With that said, we totally laughed that off in the end. It is kinda cool to think that you're descended from giants, even of the demonic variety. And, like we said, the Mongols weren't “good guys” by any means. The conquering Mongols were the quintessential villains of their time and it's totally justifiable that they're portrayed in a negative way. So, no, we got over that whole thing quickly.
Alle, for all her faults, is actually compelling in a lot of ways. Her backstory is very tragic and sad, likely based in some of the author's personal experiences. It can be very heartbreaking to read those parts. And, like we alluded to before, her playful, naive, and occasionally annoying personality does contrast nicely with her true identity. Meanwhile, it also plays into the idea that she's “burying” something under that facade. Even her thirsting does make some sense both from a psychological and in-story standpoint. Her losses have left a deep hole in her heart that she longs to be filled, we get that. She's like a donut... there's a hole in the the middle of her heart.
And, of course, the big reveal helps all that to make even more sense. Even what we perceived to be the worst scene in the book, which involves her singing a children's Christian song, made more sense to us after rereading it and realizing she connects with the song because it's her daughter's favorite. (It was still cringeworthy the first time though). Alle has deeper issues that might go over other peoples' heads. For example, she seems to have somewhat of a disordered eating disorder. However, that goes largely unexplored, perhaps for the better since going too deep into that sort of thing can be triggering for the target audience.
Gabriel, if you put aside him being THE arch-angel Gabriel from The Bible, is a sexy and sweet love interest, someone you'd love to have around in real life. If nothing else, he's a great and capable friend with a protective and caring nature.
Meanwhile, there's quite an exciting cast of villains in this book, even beside the devil himself. There is a malevolent spirit in here named Narcisse who considers himself a “free agent” or rogue, targeting Alle and Lani. More than any other villain, Narcisse seems to bring out Alle's negative thoughts and emotions. The way she responds to him is unlike how she talks to anyone else in the book, revealing a lot of the broken person she's been hiding.
There's one really beautiful line in this book that sums up the message pretty well, “Like a beautifully balanced meal, bitterness enhanced the sweetness.”
This is definitely a nominee for “Best Quote” in this contest. It may also be a frontrunner for “Best Book Cover!”
We've gone on and on and on about about this book. It's your turn to read it for yourself!
We are confident that you'll enjoy something about this book!
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