This novella opens with Celeste, a faro dealer in the mining town of Goetia, surveying her table of mostly fellow Fallen, as the descendants of those who lost the rebellion against Heaven are known. Society in the post-Rebellion world is strictly divided between the Fallen and the Elect, the descendants of the righteous, who are in charge of almost everything worth controlling. This includes most industry and the systems of administration that keep the town running.
Celeste could pass in high society due to having inherited her looks from her Elect father, unlike her sister Mariel, who takes after their Fallen mother. While Mariel is a talented singer, racism ensures that she can only make a living performing in saloons and dive bars instead of the opera houses where less talented singers tread the boards. Loyal to a fault, Celeste stays with Mariel in the slums, dealing cards while looking out for her little sister.
So when Mariel is hauled away by the local Elect authorities on suspicion of murder, a frantic Celeste will stop at nothing to free her. It’s an ordeal just to discover where she’s been taken. Celeste is thus surprised to find that the Virtue who finally lets her in to see her sister is also willing to appoint her as the advocate for Mariel’s defense. When Celeste expresses her reservations, Ibrahim assures her that she doesn’t need any legal training for the position, as what matters most in the court where Mariel will be tried are the purity of truth and soul.
Since Celeste is no fool, she figures she’d better go about collecting exculpatory evidence as well. Her search, however, finds her testing the very limits of her own senses of both morality and self, as she finds herself entangled in the machinations of greater powers that seek to use her as a pawn in their sinister games.
To be honest, I’m not really sure what I think of this book. I enjoyed the quasi-Western, quasi-steampunk setting, but I don’t think I’m in the right frame of mind to care about angels, fallen or otherwise, and their descendants. I did like the noir overtones, and appreciated how Celeste is allowed to be a flawed and occasionally outright awful person in her pursuit of freedom for her sister. The dissection of racism and class was really spot on, but I also feel that this book might have benefited from being expanded into a full novel. It’s fine as a novella, but I think that a lot of assumptions were made regarding the reader’s familiarity with Christian mythology. Explaining more about the background and science-fantasy systems would have made for a more enjoyable, longer book. That said, it’s still quite good as is.
Tread Of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse was published November 15 2022 by Saga Press and is available from all good booksellers, including
Sinister games! Yes, please.