Monday, July 4, 2011

Book Review:The Angel Factory (first novel for the "Speculative Fiction Challenge 2011")

This challenge is hosted by Magemanda at Floor to Ceiling Books.
I have just found out about it, too.
Luckily, I had already started reading a book
that qualified for inclusion in this challenge!

Without further ado, I hereby present my review.

The Angel Factory
Author: Terence Blacker
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published by Simon & Schuster Children's
Publishing, September 1, 2002
Genre: YA Science Fiction, Dystopian

This is, at first glance, a simple tale of how a twelve-year-old boy, with a maturity and intelligence beyond his years, comes to suspect that his family is just "too good to be true", and then sets about attempting to uncover the truth about their lives. 

Aided by his misfit friend, Gary Sanchez, known as "Gip", Thomas Wisdom (what a transparently allegorical name!) tries to get into his father's computer.  They succeed, only to discover page after page of mysterious numbers, which, of course, turn out to be part of a coded document.  Gip ventures the theory that Thomas's parents might be CIA operatives, pointing to a rather humorous, suspicious clue -- in the Wisdom's bathroom, of all things. 

The coded document is soon deciphered, and Thomas finds out, to his dismay, that he's adopted.  Predictably enough, he reacts with intense rage, calling the Wisdoms his "former parents".  

It goes much further than that, however.  Thomas and his family go on vacation ("on holiday", in British parlance), flying from London to Santa Barbara, California.  There, Thomas has a rather surreal, quasi-mystical experience, discovering that his adoptive parents and only sister are really 'angels'.   They aren't really angels, though, as it turns out.  This is the name they have given themselves.  They were actually created at 'the angel factory', and are really beings from another world, part of "The Project", an extraterrestrial plan to save humankind from what they see as certain planetary annihilation.

The only problem is human free will.  Once he finds out what's really going on, Thomas  will do everything in his power to thwart the implementation of The Project. 

This is obviously not a new theme, but it's handled very skillfully by Blacker.  I would add that the philosophical implications of this novel would be better suited for older young adult readers, as well as adults. 

Despite his skill, and the fact that I found this book to be a page-turner, I was somewhat disappointed by the novel's length, as well as its anticlimactic ending.   The Project, after all, had some rather sinister underpinnings, but these were never fully exploited.  The womb-like atmosphere at the Angel Factory, for instance, was eerie, in spite of its apparent peacefulness.  Individualism was blotted out, and the group mind, known as 'The Presence', prevailed.   This should really have been developed further. 

The book's plot premise is that of every dystopian or utopian novel -- a too-perfect world, in which free choice is not allowed expression, is a frightening one, in spite of a cocoon-like atmosphere in which there is no danger, no risk, no adventure, and therefore, no war or evil.  Thus, I find echoes of such novels as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World,  as well as George Orwell's 1984, in Blacker's tale.  I also see a reference to Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, which is far more chilling, and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.  The novel has also been compared to Lois Lowry's The Giver.

This book is a fast read, since the tension builds up as Gip and Thomas conspire to disrupt the angels' plan.  Unfortunately,as I have already pointed out, the plot falls flat toward the end.  I was expecting a more dangerous turn of events, with a more gradual buildup to an explosive climax. 

The characters of Thomas and his friend Gip are the strongest ones in the book, which is as it should be, since they're also the main ones.  They are compared and contrasted on several points -- Thomas has a perfect life, with the perfect parents and sister.  Gip, on the other hand, has no father, and a drunken nymphomaniac for a mother.  He's frequently left on his own.  Also, he has a limp.  Together with his unkempt appearance, this leads to his being frequently bullied.  His secret weapon is his keen intelligence, a quality he shares with Thomas, although he's also more streetwise than the rather sheltered Thomas.

I was somewhat disappointed with Thomas's adoptive parents and sister.  They are not fully developed; in fact, they come across as stereotypical 'goodie-two shoes' characters.  I suppose that's their function, or perhaps that's how Thomas sees them.  He does think they're too perfect, after all. 

Rendle, the math genius, is an interesting, as well as poignant, character.  I didn't like the fact that, once his purpose in the plot was fulfilled, he disappeared.  I would have wanted him to be much more involved in subsequent events.  Also, his disappearance makes no sense, in light of the ending.  Instead, it remains as a loose end, having no place in the story.

All in all, I thought the whole premise of the book, although not entirely an original one, had potential.  It's really too bad that the author did not exploit it to its full extent.



  1. I agree that the philosophical premise sounds more like something for adults. I feel it's also surprising that he is supposed to be really mature but then has a real temper tantrum when he finds out he's adopted - it's like the author can't really decide if Thomas is a child, or what. I think it would have sounded . Great review though.

    BTW, you are now #1 on my giveaway leaderboard :)

    Annie in Wonderland

    1. Hey, thanks for commenting on this review! Sometimes I feel down, because my reviews don't get that many comments. I'm so happy you wrote one for this review!!

      Yes, Thomas is kind of a "quasi-kid". Lol. He's very smart, but not that mature. And this is definitely a novel more geared to adults, or at least older teens -- 18 and up.

      Thanks again for commenting!! I'm going to check out your "giveawy leaderboard"! : )


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