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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

'Immortal City' by Scott Speer

From the BLURB:

We pay them to protect us.  And we're their biggest fans.

They are our celebrities, and we worship them with paparazzi and endless gossip and speculation.  To us, they are glamour.  To them, we're an assignment.  Their job is to guard us-that is, those of us who can afford them . . . Because the only thing stronger than a Guardian Angel is the rule they must obey.

So what happens when one of them falls for one of us?

In the City Angels, the rules are about to be broken.

Maddy is sick and tired of hearing about the Angels and Jackson Godspeed’s upcoming Protection announcement.

Maddy lives with her uncle Kevin in the City of Angels in their family diner, but she doesn’t buy into the hysteria around the winged celebrities. Angels are sworn to protect, for a price; every year the world’s wealthiest bid for Protection from one of the many Angels in the world – protection that means their lives will be saved by one of their Angel Guardians if the need ever arises. Maddy hears enough about the Angels from her best friend Gwen, who is constantly plugged into the A! Network, reading ‘Angels Weekly’ or any number of blogs that follow the celebrity lifestyles of the Angels. This week’s latest Angel goss? Jackson Godspeed’s Protected humans being announced, and his are-they-or-aren’t-they tumultuous relationship with fellow Angel, Vivian Holycross.

Jackson ‘Jacks’ Godspeed, aka ‘Halo Hunk’, is starting to feel the mounting pressure of his Protections being announced. Everyone is watching him – from the ANN (Angel News Network) to his revered Angelic family. Things really start heating up when a murdered Angel is found, his wings plucked (making him mortal) and Jacks’s stepfather (and Archangel extraordinaire) is put on the case.

But what Jacks really wasn’t expecting in the midst of his rise to fame and an Angel-murderer on the loose, was to meet human girl, Maddy. A girl who isn’t interested in Angels and fame, but who is disturbed by the inherent capitalism of ‘saving’ and ‘protecting’ humans. . .  and she’s making Jacks question all that he, and the Angels, stand for.

‘Immortal City’ is the debut young adult paranormal novel from Scott Speer.

I was initially intrigued when I read the blurb for ‘Immortal City’; Angels as celebrities, saviours (for a price). In the City of Angels, to be saved is to be someone. It’s an interesting premise that caught my eye. But I did wonder if Speer’s debut would evolve beyond the one-trick-pony idea of ‘Angel Celebrities’. Sadly, the answer is no.

Scott Speer hammers the fetishism of celebrity home, with his descriptions of a world gone ‘Angel Crazy’. Not surprisingly, he has warped our already celebrity-obsessed world into a more angelic one with a few nifty name changes, there’s: Angels Weekly (Us Weekly), ANN Angel News Network (CNN Cable News Network), Walk of Angels (Walk of Fame) and the A! Channel (E!) to name a very few. Angels are the supermodel, megastar and all-round über-celebrities of this world;

The walk to school took Maddy down Vine Street and through the heart of Angel City. She passed under the towering billboards of Angels selling jewellery, sunglasses, designed handbags, and luxury cars. Half-naked Immortal bodies were the alluring backdrop for labels like Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Christian Dior.

Interesting idea, I admit . . .  but not enough to sustain interest in a 368-page book that has little else to offer.

There is a story about an angel murderer (done bigger and better in Nalini Singh’s ‘Guild Hunter’ series). And the obligatory supernatural-boy-meets-human-girl love story which is exactly as it sounds and you can guess how it pans out from a mile away;

“Would you save me, Jacks?”
It came out in a rush.
All of a sudden Maddy realized it was the nagging she had felt deep inside her. It was this single question. It had been gnawing at her ever since he had come to pick her up earlier in the night.
Jacks’s eyes darted to hers, intent, then looked away. “If you were my Protection, yes.”
“No. As I am now, tonight,” Maddy pressed. “If something were to happen, would you save me?” When she spoke again, her voice was gravelly and raw. “Would you come for me, Jackson?”
Finally, he spoke.
“I’m sorry. It doesn’t work that way, Maddy,” he murmured.
The words cut like a knife.
“It’s just not allowed,” Jacks said, carefully. “As Angels our duty is to our Protections.”

I think part of the problem with ‘Immortal City’ is that Scott Speer is pretty much hitting readers over the head with metaphors and ‘life lessons’ that are already heavy-handed. In his author bio at the back of the book, Speer says about ‘Immortal City’: “At its core my first novel is about a character coming of age in Los Angeles, a journey that in many ways reflects my own experiences in this Immortal City.” Nobody will be surprised to learn that Speer started his career as a music video director and briefly dated ‘High School Musical’ actress, Ashley Tisdale. So he knows a thing or two about the ‘fame game’. So of course when he writes about people’s obsession with Angels (i.e.: celebrities) and the distorted importance the general public give them, how we feed them in a never-ending catch-22 cycle of trash TV and paparazzi stalking . . .  it’s generally a bad thing. We get it. We didn’t really need 368-pages to ‘get it’. Maybe the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer Angel as celebrity story could have worked as a nice backdrop, but only if the core story of Maddy and Jacks had been interesting enough to counteract . . .  but it isn’t. It’s a done-to-death version of every supernatural boy meets human girl story, from Edward and Bella to Elena and Stefan.

Not to mention the fact that Speer doesn’t have enough panache in his writing to sustain the story. He’s just rehashing all the paranormal-YA plot points, right down to the old ‘discuss the history of this universe in a classroom setting to let the reader know the background of how [insert supernatural being] came to be integrated into our society’. For the record, in ‘Immortal City’ it turns out Angels revealed themselves to humans during the American Civil War when they got tired of the bloodshed and didn’t want to serve mankind “out of kindness” anymore, and so decided to put their Protective skills into American capitalism.

Sorry, Scott Speer; Angels as celebrities is an interesting idea for a couple of pages, but readers can pretty much fill in their own gaps in thinking about the ramifications of ‘saviours for a price’. And when the love story is as lacklustre as this one, it only serves to highlight how unsustaining the whole Angel schtick really is after 200+ pages. The concept behind ‘Immortal City’ would have probably worked better in a short story (I could imagine it in a Dashiell Hammett-esque noir piece; washed up Archangel pours his guts out to a bartender in a seedy LA bar?).


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