Friday, January 21, 2022

"Aurora's Angel" by Emily Noon--Fiction Review

What a way to start this year off with Indie reviews! “Aurora’s Angel” by Emily Noon is a dark fantasy romance novel that is revelatory. It’s also an LGBTQ+ sort of novel, so it’s nice to see a good book serving an underserved audience.

Emily Noon

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

What I love about this book:

Right from the beginning, this book is intense. There is an escape scene with lots of shooting, and then it shifts quickly into a survival story. Noon leans into the dark descriptor of her fantasy pretty hard, and there is a visceral quality to her combat scenes that is equal parts satisfying and disquieting. That intensity isn’t just present in the fantastic elements of this dark fantasy romance, either. The romance is a real grip you by the heart—claws first sort.

It’s worth mentioning it’s a romance between two women, and if that’s going to be a problem like I said in my review of “The Song of Achilles,” how about—try growing up? Ok? Ok. 

How Noon realizes her principal two characters of Aurora and Evie is sublime. They’re deeply complex women with distinct character voices who have many admirable qualities. But they also have defects and blind spots to their characters that make them feel authentic. It’s effortless to fall into the suspension of disbelief with them and mentally treat their story as if it were happening to a real person that you know. Plus, they make for exciting chemistry in a romance.

There are virtually no introduced elements—no detail so small—that aren’t impactfully used in the plot of this story. Overall the plot is very tightly organized. Story problems are introduced in immediate, short-term, and long-term flavors, and solutions are then rendered at the appropriate times.

A lot of attention to detail was given to the dialogue in this novel—and each conversation shines with that effort. When the characters talk, it feels as natural and intimate as any good conversation I’ve had in my life.

What I don’t love about this book:

So there is something that I call the cotton candy effect—or well, there is now, I now call this the cotton candy effect—and the surmise is simple. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Which yes, I get that I just added an extra layer to a cliché, and this seems like stalling because it is—but there is a lot of talking in this book—like—a lot, a lot. 

I know I just said I like the dialogue in this book, but I wish there was less of it. Let me explain; much like my favorite carnival confection—after funnel cake and deep-fried Oreos—I love cotton candy but only for about a third of the bag, maybe half if I’m going wild. I’m not saying that half of the dialogue could be dropped, that would be too detrimental, but still, it feels like there could have been more streamlining. This isn’t just with the talky bits, either. There are plenty of elaborately detailed meal scenes, too, more than enough. Other elements get overused beyond those examples, but I feel that the point has been made: there is a lot of indulgence in this novel. 

This leads me to the length of this book—for a twenty-hour experience, there are actually very few locations explored by the characters. To use another fantasy author as an example, Noon has a very Brandon Sanderson-Esque meander about her. If you like that quality for its intimacy, then this is great. I, on the other hand, am very much the kind of fantasy story reader that is constantly asking, “Hey, what’s over there? Are we done here now?” 

While the protagonists of this book, and their orbit, are fleshed out with nuanced and sometimes contradictory motivations and backstories—the antagonists are not. They’re all mustache-twirling dickheads. Except for one avian woman, who, lacking a mustache to twirl—an assumption—is given more of a treatment and, while still eighty percent villain, manages to be sympathetic.

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Author’s Website:

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

The quick and dirty synopsis:

Aurora discovers a band of black market traders in a mine, known as cutters, that do precisely what they sound like they do. They cut people up and sell their body parts. Well, specifically, they chop up shapeshifters. Aurora, a powerful shapeshifter, has a special hatred for cutters, the details of which are revealed later in the story. Anyway, she exacts some vengeance and frees some captives, including an avian woman named Evie.

During their escape, Evie, while trying to fly away with her rescuer Aurora, gets shot in the wing, and they crash into the woods. Aurora has Evie shift away her wings, which avians are reluctant to do because their shifting skills are apparently poor. Evie, being no different than the typical avian, in this regard, isn’t practiced at walking around without the balance of her wings, and it’s especially challenging for her to go down a mountain—at night. So, Aurora decides to carry her, despite Evie’s initial reluctance.

Over a few days traveling together in the wilderness, the two women get to know each other and strike up a friendship. Evie, of course, wants to go directly home. Not just because that’s exactly what any kidnap victim would want, but because her father is sick and as second in command of her house—or rather her flock—she has an immense amount of responsibility.

As a landbound Evie’s guide, Aurora has other responsibilities and is on a very tight schedule. She agrees to take Evie home but simply can’t drop everything to take her there directly. It’s a point of contention between the two, but they overcome it rapidly.

Part of their journey takes Aurora and Evie through a wolf beast shifter settlement, where avians are not particularly well-liked. Avians have a reputation for assisting cutters and black market trade, but Evie’s family is firmly against such practices—so Aurora sticks up for her. Not everyone sees it Aurora’s way, but they soon regret it. Aurora gets what she came for, turns down an offer to join the settlement, and she and Evie go on their way.

On the next leg of the journey, more details about Aurora come to light. As a beast shifter, she is a tigress, like her father, who was murdered and harvested by cutters in front of Aurora. She blames herself for his death because he died rescuing her from them—or, more precisely, giving her the power to save herself, the details of how that was accomplished are gruesome.

Aurora leads Evie to her personal sanctuary—a place provided to Aurora by her mysterious mother—and it’s there that the two women begin a new phase of their relationship. Things turn from simple friendship to sparks flying romantic during an intense night, where they have sex for the first of many times.

After the sanctuary, Aurora takes Evie through a human settlement with which Aurora has a complicated history—the place and its people. The people there love Aurora. But despite their love and Aurora’s genuine love for them, she still feels the outsider and that it couldn’t be home.

Finally, Aurora takes Evie to Evie's home, and the two separate for what they think will be the last time and not on the best terms. Aurora plans to head to the human world and never intends to return to Nordarra. Evie cannot follow because she has responsibilities to her family and flock.

But before Aurora can leave forever, Evie is kidnapped again. It turns out Evie’s shitty uncle is the traitor who had her taken in the first place, and too to boot, he’s been poisoning her father slowly so that he’d be in a position to take over the flock with her out of the picture. This is all at the behest of a rival avian flock that is very militant but of lesser stature than Evie’s. They fail to consider Aurora’s ire—and how powerful she is—and that Aurora’s mysterious mother is a dragon. 

Extreme hyper-violence ensues, and one less avian house later, and apparently that house had been working with the cutter who murdered Aurora’s father, so that’s tied up nicely—the two lovers are reunited. They declare their love and, ultimately, after another separation, are together at last, with Aurora deciding to stay in Nordarra with Evie.


Other than what I mentioned in the non-spoiler side—there aren't any real weaknesses in this story, and I can think of a few reasons to temper my above examples. Too much of a good thing is a wonderful luxury to have, and even though it’s a long book, it wasn’t like I wasn’t enjoying hanging out in Nordarra. Even my issue with the villains is tempered because Noon—if a bit late—produced an engaging, unlikeable, and yet sympathetic antagonist before “Aurora’s Angel” bowed out.

The only example of a truly underdeveloped element, in my opinion, is the human world, which might be mitigated by a sequel. In terms of this story, it seems off that Aurora is focused for ninety percent of the story getting there, yet the relationship between the two worlds is fuzzy. The other side of the portal seems like our world. As a reader, I know that there is a Canada and other familiar features, and there appears to be a sort of import regulation and tourism—but is it the same way the other way around? Is Nordarra widely known on the other side of the portal, or do only a select few people know of its existence? What is the geo-political ramification of having a stable portal to a Narnia-like alternate world? And I could go on like this.

Parting thoughts:

Shifting gears, and a bit of how I work as a reader. When I read a story, I imagine myself as an observer in every scene. I am present in each scene as a non-actor and non-participant—like a ghost that none of the characters can see or hear. I don’t know why I do this, and I once had a nightmare where this broke down, but that’s a different story.

So, clearly, as a heterosexual male, I’m not the target audience here. When the very enthusiastic sex scenes started happening, I was caught in an oscillation between two thoughts of “well, this is very well done” and “wait, does enjoying this make me a voyeur?” 

What ended up happening is I mentally spent my time—say during the sex scene at Aurora’s sanctuary, for example—mentally exploring Aurora’s giant library while Evie and Aurora became known to each other in the biblical sense in the room next door. Occasionally thinking things like, “good for you ladies,” and “I hope you have enough water for hydration purposes, and maybe some orange slices for energy.”

Joking aside—what this says about me as a person, I’ve concluded, is that I’m a repressed person who comes from a repressed society—and as a product of that society, I had to unlearn this topic as being taboo. My awkwardness is a sign that, from a societal standpoint, I haven’t been served with a sense of equality in this regard because never do I have this problem when it’s a heterosexual relationship. That, in of itself, is bad.

This observation is all the way down here because I don’t want to give even a hint of negativity toward homosexual relationships by putting this in a section called “What I don’t love about this book.” It isn’t that I don’t love this quality about this book. I don’t love this quality about myself, an unconscious bias I wasn’t aware of, and I want to be better.

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