Friday, September 17, 2021

"Fallen Angels" by Anna Mocikat--Fiction Review

Today Obscurists we’re returning to Anna Mocikat’s cyberpunk dystopian future in “Fallen Angels” book two of the “Behind Blue Eyes” series.

Anna Mocikat

***The Non-Spoiler part of this review*** 

What I love about this book:

I’ve said this before, elsewhere out in the interwebs, but “Fallen Angels” is really more of everything I loved about the first book in the “Behind Blue Eyes” series—with a few caveats.

Mocikat explores all new territory in the book, not just with locations but with seeing characters in different circumstances than we’re accustomed to. This isn’t really too much of a spoiler—but I never thought I would see a vulnerable Metatron. My paranoia is such with that character that I kept thinking, “this isn’t happening, not for real-real. This is all some elaborate miss direction.” It was right about when I was starting to think about saying something about a false flag that I had to stop myself and think, “wait a minute, what have I become? Now I’m the crazy conspiracist? Oh—fuck you, Metatron, you magnificent bastard.” I guess what I’m saying here is that I love to hate this guy, and he gave me plenty of opportunities to do that.

So in my review of the first book in this series, I mentioned that Nephilim was by far my favorite character. And without going too much further, let me say I still have a soft squishy organic part of my heart for her—but Detective Siro Ferreira-Nunes is my new favorite. I was surprised by this because typically, with any book series, I make my imaginary friends early on and am standoffish toward any new characters introduced. My internal wiring is very much—I have my friends, I don’t want new friends, which is probably a deep-seated character flaw of mine. 

In any case, Siro won me over quickly, sort of like Pedro Pascal did with his interpretation of Prince Oberyn Martell in “Game of Thrones.” Siro isn’t any less self-absorbed or constantly horny like any other Olympias citizen, but he is authentically who he is all the time. It’s not that Siro is above lying or deception—he isn’t. It’s that his motivations are clear, and he makes them clear to everyone around him. He loves his job, he moved to Olympias I for a better life, he likes coffee and getting laid. In a world full of duplicitous super assassins working all the angles, there’s blessed Siro, entirely out of his depth, doing the job of a homicide detective just because he loves doing it and being himself.

What I don’t love about this book:

This pains me to say this because she was my girl all of “Behind Blue Eyes,” but Nephilim 2.0, the good company girl of the Angel Corps, I just don’t like her as much. I loved Neph the rebel, the idealist, the freedom fighter—even though given this novel’s universe, that’s super impractical. But alas, the darlings grow up, and sometimes they become middle management at the cyborg assassin factory, and I guess that’s OK too. I still love Neph for all her exciting action scenes in this book, and even though she’s towing the company line more these days, she still finds little ways to remain loyal to those she cares about—even if that includes Metatron now.

There is some repetitiveness in this book, beats that repeat from the first book, which I’ll discuss in more detail in my analysis, but mainly I found it to be in the dialog between the characters. There are many “you’re super hot” or “incredibly sexy” and variations of that, and the first time a character expresses that about another, sure, valid. The second time OK, we’re cementing that point. The third time and on—we know. They’re hot. Can we get onto the next order of business, please? Also, there is an inordinate number of “are you OK?” questions even when not in battle or fresh from one—and I consider myself a caring individual—but she’s a killer cyborg! I love her to pieces, but she can’t possibly be that emotionally frail, or she wouldn’t be the best damn killer cyborg in the corps.

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***The Spoiler part of this review***
***Ye be warned to turn back now***

The quick and dirty synopsis:

“Fallen Angels” starts on a beat underscoring how literal the title is because someone is hunting, mutilating, and murdering members of the Angel Corps. We’re introduced to two human homicide detectives, Ferreira-Nunes and Spider—rare is it that I think spider and detective at the same time outside of “Along Came a Spider,” but I digress.

The Angels, led by Nephilim in the field and Metatron back at their HQ, decide to work with the human members of law enforcement in Olympias. Clearly, the killers who have been slaying Guardian Angels have access to some sort of tech to render the Angels helpless, at least temporarily. In exchange, the Angels will help the detectives take out a notorious snuff ring, who make their money setting up murder parties for awful people.

While the investigation is ongoing, Nephilim, now risen to the rank of Archangel, gets much closer to the boss of the whole Angel Corps, Metatron. After he stabbed her in the heart, had her refurbished, and some “brainwashing/re-education,” Nephilim doesn’t remember the events of the first story. She goes with Metatron to meet the ruling council of Olympias, who are even more enormous pricks than Metatron. They go on a working vacation to Olympias III together, where there is a super cool fight with some WASPS, which turns out to all be staged—well—sort of, I mean, many Wasps do die. In any case, it was all a pretext for Metatron to meet with a Wasp commander and talk about—something. He doesn’t tell Nephilim and, by extension, us the audience. 

Later, back in good ole' Olympias I, Metatron is almost killed in an assassination plot—YAY—but even though he tells her to run and save herself, which was shockingly noble and uncomfortable for me, Nephilim saves the old GOAT—boo. After the assassination plot fails, Nephilim leads the Angels against the snuff ring, holding up their end of the bargain with the detectives. The mission goes off flawlessly.

Simultaneously weaved in with that plot is the subplot involving Nephilim’s old flame from the first book, Jake. He escaped to his home Rosprom at the end of the last book, thanks to Nephilim sacrificing herself for him. How does he repay her sacrifice? By getting himself attached to the very first mission back to Olympias, just like he said he would, and against her wishes. It turns out that it’s Rosprom again who is behind the Angels’ misery, and it’s them who obtained a way to incapacitate Angels to assassinate them. They’re helped this time by a corrupt member of the upper muckety-mucks of Olympias, and their secret weapon against the Angels was provided by none other than Finwick—Nephilim’s nerdy buddy from the first book.

In Finwck’s defense, he didn’t know how his intimate knowledge of the Angels would be employed. Also, thanks to Nephilim, he has a newly adopted daughter to look after, a character also important to Neph in the first book. He does feel bad about what was happening, especially when the human detectives Ferreira-Nunes and Spider run down his organization and trick him into revealing himself where he’s nearly killed by Nephilim. But Neph remembers who her friend is in time and tells him to flee.

In the epilogue, Nephilim shows up late to her meeting with Metatron and only asks one question. “Why did you kill me?”


Overall, Mocikat is a talented genre writer with a high skill level for her chosen subgenre of cyberpunk sci-fi for these novels. She has a great sensibility for the conventions and tropes of cyberpunk while still being able to tell her story and not be shackled down by what has come before. For example, in “Fallen Angels,” I could sense a lot more inspiration from stories like “Altered Carbon” in the DNA of the story. Still, while there might be some homage, and they inhabit the same subgenre, they’re entirely different stories with different stakes.

To me, a good subgenre writer, or even just an author who clearly writes genre fiction predominantly, is a bit like a great painter. A talented painter needs to know their color theory, the modes and forms of what came before so that they can build off those expectations and then innovate. Suppose you want to be a science fiction writer, or a fantasy writer, et cetera. In that case, you need to read a lot of stories in those genres to be any good, and it actually becomes more intensive when you drill down into the subgenres of those genres. You can tell from reading this novel, and the one before it, that Mocikat knows her business.

Specifically about this book, sometimes I got a little hung up on the characterization of some supporting characters. There would be times where a new character would be introduced, and they’d be a shark-eyed beautiful killer, and then we’d get introduced to the next shark-eyed beautiful killer, again and again. This is the other part of what I mean by repetitive beats. At the same time, though, I also consider that part of what makes the world of these novels so vibrant and menacing is standardization—sort of like what we do with machines today. We make them all the same, for convenience. There is a sort of logical extreme at play here with the mass production of shark-eyed beautiful killing cyborgs and even the people of Olympias all being rather similar to each other. They’re manipulated into being the way they are, by people like Metatron, so that they might be like standardized parts all in one great societal machine.

Plotwise, the only part where it really got to me was with Finwick—and again, he was presented with something that should be an obvious trap. He even considers this time that this obvious trap might be an obvious trap. Then he takes into account that he’s responsible for the little girl that he’s adopted. Ultimately, he then still falls for the obvious trap and only survives by the grace of Nephilim’s restraint. Every decision he makes annoys me because while I like him as an underdog, it feels like he continues to make the same wrong choices, just with new wrong reasons and faulty reasoning.

Parting thoughts:

I just so happened to be reading Ovid while reading this book and read “Pygmalion” right before the bit where Metatron reads the same story. My reaction was, “Hey, I read that too! You’re still gross, but I get it, Metatron.” I like the classical allusions in this story, which is hardly a new phenomenon for a Sci-Fi story to have characters interested in the classics.

A lot of hot air has been blown comparing the merits of commercial fiction vs. more literary work, and while I can enjoy both with an understanding of the strengths of each, my sentiments are more with the commercial. Interestingly, at least in the English-speaking world, both camps often lay claim to the classics in the western literary canon.

So here is my hot air for why I ultimately prefer commercial fiction. Succinctly it’s because I love and am passionate about stories—the form of the writing that tells that story is and always will be secondary to me. There is an argument that genre fiction by the high-minded, nose-looker-downers is nothing but escapism for dollars. In contrast, literary fiction is all about beauty, high art, enlightenment, and improvement. A well-crafted and lyrical sentence, paragraph, or longer body of text can be shockingly beautiful, much like a cherry blossom tree. But ultimately, no Prunus has ever made me a better person, despite how pretty they are, and maybe that’s a failure of imagination on my part. I’ve certainly considered the idea.

What I attribute to my improvement as a human being are stories that were important to me in my formative years—and beyond. It wasn’t whatever novel won the Pulitzer Prize in the nineties that made me consider that other cultures and peoples may have customs I don’t understand or even agree with, but still nonetheless should be respected. It was “Star Trek” that did that. 

The charge that commercial fiction is only for escapism and profit is a half-truth. It’s a half-truth because while those facts are undeniable, it’s also a willful omission. It omits that since the earliest days of language, sitting around a campfire, we made sense of the world around us and learned to communicate feelings and ideas through the story.

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