Archangel Protocol

by Lyda Morehouse

Cover image

Series: AngeLINK #1
Publisher: Roc
Copyright: May 2001
ISBN: 0-451-45827-3
Format: Mass market
Pages: 342

Buy at Powell's Books

Deidre McMannus is a private investigator. She used to be a cop, before she was ex-communicated and back when she had access to the LINK, a nearly universal network with wireless communication through brain implants. In this future world, an active religious affiliation is required to retain access to the LINK, and the LINK is certainly required to work as a police officer. Deidre lost both when she was accused by the Vatican of seducing her former partner, shortly before her former partner assassinated the Pope.

This is a fascinating mix of a book that I suspect lost some of its audience by falling between the stools of subgenres. It starts out looking like cyberpunk with a noir detective edge, down to the opening of a case brought to the detective by a mysterious and attractive stranger. There are several other trappings of that subgenre: a significant online component to the plot (including a mysteriously good hacker), some AIs, even a revolutionary cell. But it's just as much an urban fantasy, including the scrappy heroine, supernatural forces, and some sexual tension. It's a surprising merger of science fiction and urban fantasy, with a heavy dose of complex approaches to religion. The heroine, despite being ex-communicated, still considers herself a worshiping Catholic, and that's significant to the plot. While it suffers some from the unevenness of a first novel, it's original and surprisingly entertaining in its world-building.

Deidre's world is deeply religious mostly because of backlash against science from a near-doomsday war, but the appearance of web angels are reinforcing the bias. The web angels are apparently manifestations of traditional Christian angels inside the LINK, bringing with them very strong emotions and a powerful sense of reality. They are an experience that has convinced most of the US population of the absolute truth of religion (although which religion is still somewhat in dispute), and are having a huge impact on politics. Few people doubt that they're real, even Deidre herself. But the mysterious stranger who walks into her office at the start of the book is named Michael, and in return for restoring her LINK access he wants her to help him prove that the web angels are false and bring down the politician who is riding their apparent support to the Presidency.

Michael's identity is technically a spoiler, but if you haven't figured it out already, I'm surprised.

The presentation of angels here, while not adding many new ideas to people familiar with In Nomine or various other fantasy takes, are a satisfying example of the genre, with the ambiguities and guesswork of good angel/demon fiction in place. Even better, though, are the Gorgons, humans changed by living too close to the irradiated areas created by bombs during the brief war. The bombs turned whole areas to glass, a completely unscientific and improbable event that makes for some amazing descriptions. Morehouse avoids the well-trodden ground of traditional radiation, which is plausible but ugly, and instead creates a type of radiation sickness that's more subtle and terrifying, affecting the mind more than the body. This could have been a weakness, but turned out to be a great subplot.

There's lots of action, predictably some sex, a scrappy heroine, some metaphysical quandries and tricky maybe-allies, an unreliably charming and possibly dangerous hacker and pet AI, and a great climactic fight against one of the better-constructed political villains I've seen in urban fantasy. Oh, and Jewish guerrilla revolutionaries led by a lesbian. Who can say no to that?

Archangel Protocol is sadly out of print, as is the rest of the series. Lyda Morehouse has subsequently relaunched her career with more traditional urban fantasy writing as Tate Hallaway. But it looks like she's found a publisher again, and it may be back in print shortly. Watch for it, or look for it in used bookstores, particularly if you like both angels and cyberpunk. It's a rough but surprising gem that deserved more attention than it got.

Followed by Fallen Host.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2010-09-29

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21