Of Love and Evil: The Songs of the Seraphim
London: Arrow Books, 2011
In the first book of this series, Angel Time, which I have not read but which seems to be perfectly well summarised in this one, Toby O’Dare has been plucked from his life of government assassin, a soulless terrorist, by a real life angel named Malchiah. The angel sees a better future for Toby, saving lives rather than taking them and things seem to have worked out pretty well for both of them. At the beginning of this book, Toby is in the presence of angels: “I felt love around me in this vast and seamless realm of sound and light. I felt intimately and completely known. I felt beloved and held and part of all I saw and heard. And yet I knew I deserved nothing of it, nothing. And something akin to sadness swept me up and mingled my very essence with the voices who sang, because the voices were singing of me (p.3).”
It is easy to have some sympathy with this point of view: why has Toby, of all people, been given this opportunity? Are there no more or less virtuous people who might have had the chance? Are there to be no punishments for vice and no rewards for virtue? The answer to this, I am going to suggest, is Zen or Vajrayana Buddhism. In this Buddhist tradition, enlightenment (i.e. the freeing of the self from attachments to the unlasting things of the universe) can arrive instantaneously as if by a lightning bolt for the mind that is ready to receive it. This is the reason why, in the various versions of the Ramayana, demons and monsters and all kinds of ne’er-do-wells are able to achieve enlightenment while the good guys remain chained to their appetites. Perhaps, then, Toby has the opportunity for a form of spiritual greatness that is beyond the ken of the rest of us, at least for the time being. Such an interpretation would appear to coincide with her vampire books, particularly the later ones. The first, Interview with a Vampire, was a jolly romp with vivid characters and occasional bouts of fast-paced action. Yet as the series continued (and I started to lose interest in it), the books increasingly became involved with the supposedly superior ability of some great souls to be able to suffer and love and suffer again. That Anne Rice then went on to write books about Jesus rather reinforced my idea that her authorial sensibility had disappeared somewhere the sun does not shine.
However, when I saw this little book available at a moment when I wanted to buy and read something quite like it, all misgivings disappeared and I was ready to give her another go. Thankfully, the being in the bosom of the angels thing soon disappears and Toby is dispatched to an Italy of the Renaissance period in which the presence of a dybbuk or golem is suspected. Toby’s task is to find out what is going on and make things better. He will receive some angelic assistance along the way but the angels are not God and so not omnipresent or, indeed, all-knowing. Fortunately, Toby is able to communicate with the local people and can soon get on with his job.
This is quite a nice set-up for a series of books that could be moved in various directories (and probably would transfer nicely to the screen) and do not require that much effort on behalf of the author – in a concluding note, she observes that she used Wikipedia for much of her research. I will be interested to see if any more of these come along or whether she has turned her attention elsewhere.