Noir angel novel delightfully bends reality
Something More Than Night, Ian Tregillis's metaphysical noir, opens with the murder of the seraph Gabriel. It's a passage that sets the tone for the whole novel: jaw-dropping prose, weaving through religious ecstasy and quantum physics, tinged with the Chandler-esque tough-guy argot of Bayliss, the fallen angel who narrates every other chapter. I would really like to quote two pages here, but will contain myself to the first two paragraphs: "They murdered one of the Seraphim tonight. Gabriel streaked across the heavens like a tumbling meteor, his corpse a fireball of sublimated perfection. He had been a creature of peerless majesty, but now the throes of his death etched the firmament."
It's not just the writing that makes this one of the best new books I've read in the past year, though — the story is deft, heartfelt, gloriously complicated even as it falls into the rhythms of classic noir. There's a dame, Molly Pruett, accidentally killed by Bayliss and resurrected as an unwilling angel; there's a Macguffin, Gabriel's Jericho Trumpet, which has gone missing and must be found; there're bad cops and secrets, plot twists galore, and oh the slang flows freely in Bayliss's chapters. Reading it's like drinking straight whiskey, peering world-weary through cigarette smoke.
Tregillis is a physicist by trade — he works at Los Alamos National Lab — so time and space bend like genres throughout, and alternate realities lurk behind every corner.
The angelic Choir, Bayliss explains to Molly, is responsible for maintaining the Mantle of Ontological Consistency: their mutual conceptions of reality, overlapping and reinforcing each other, make the universe possible. Physics, mathematics, the necessary conditions for life are all dependent on the MOC, which is why replacing Gabriel was so vital.
But Molly makes a mistake. Longing for mortal connection, she visits her ex-girlfriend Ria; her angelic form, however, is incomprehensible to the human experience, literally mind-blowing, and Ria is left brain-dead by the brief contact. In her grief, Molly tries to push back time, to take back what she's done — it's a forbidden act, and the enigmatic Voice of God, METATRON, punishes the whole Choir, tearing their Magisteria (every angel's personal corner of Heaven) to pieces, leaving the metaphysical world "a featureless infinite-dimensional expanse." To the angels, it's painful and terrifying. And some of them want revenge.
Even all the above is merely scraping the surface, though. Something More Than Night uses Chandler and Hammett as a mold, and fills it from the well where the divine and the farthest reaches of physics combine, nebulous, overwhelming, sublime. The stuff dreams are made of.