Thursday, February 16, 2012

BOOK REVIEW CORNER – Starfire Angels Book 1

Melanie Nilles, Prairie Star Publishing
Young Adult Paranormal Romance
Free Kindle edition
Reviewed by Willa Kaye Danes, author at Penumbra Publishing

I always begin a new book with great hope and expectation. The premise of this story – that angels are here on Earth, but they’re aliens, complete with impressive wings – is an interesting one that I hoped would be done well. However, the author delved into it with a heaping helping of teen angst – symptomatic of many young-adult novels that sacrifice story for the constant banter over ‘he loves me, he loves me not.’ That’s not to say the romantic aspects of the story weren’t engaging, because they were. But there were other issues with the story that caused me not to enjoy it nearly as much as I’d hoped.

The story opens with seventeen-year-old Raea Dahlrich, a senior in small-town North Dakota, trying to fit in with her friends and be ‘normal,’ despite the constant teasing she gets from bullying schoolmates who make fun of the bizarre turquoise gem-like shards imbedded in her hands. Amazingly (and I use this adverb to express my utter astonishment at how this whole aspect of the story is presented and accepted by all the characters without question), Raea has never had this disfigurement checked into by a doctor. In fact she has never seen the inside of a doctor’s office her whole life. Which begs the question ... how did she get the necessary inoculations to be admitted to public school?

Anyway, her aunt and uncle have raised her since her mother and stepdad mysteriously died in a tornado. Her geeky friend Josh is obsessed with reports of a ‘Dark Angel’ who, over the last several months, has been rescuing people in the area. Now a nosey reporter is on the story – just when Raea wakes up from a bizarre dream about her late mother flying – and finds that she herself has sprouted a huge set of wings during the night. Elis, the foreign-refugee(?) student that lives with the old lady next door creeps her out – until she realizes he’s really, really foreign and can sprout wings like hers. And her aunt is in on this secret the whole time, but (again, amazingly) never bothered to tell her any of this. Without giving away the whole story, suffice it to say there is a whole lot of stuff going on in this story. There’s an offworld war being waged to protect/steal the crystal shards that have a telepathic effect on the ‘keepers’ of the crystals. Raea must learn to use her powers as a keeper of the crystal to prevent the bad guys from stealing it.

One beef I had with the story was the peculiar formatting or sometimes lack thereof, that ran paragraphs together and didn’t differentiate between internal thoughts and regular narrative, making it extremely hard to follow – especially when Raea’s stream-of-consciousness arguments with herself over which boy she likes seemed a bit psychotic. Especially hard to reconcile was the peculiar way the author decided to denote conversations in the alien language of the Inari (winged people). Also confusing was why the Inari would have any conceivable reason to be able to retract their wings at will. Presumably that ability would have been an evolutionary development arising from some survival need. But on their home world, everyone has wings, so ... I am stumped for an answer. I can only assume that this ability arose by design because the author needed to invent a way for the main character and other Inari hiding out on Earth to ‘blend’ with the human population.

But these complaints are all minor when compared to the one detracting issue near the end that I found really disappointing. It stretched the believability factor to the breaking point and totally ruined the story for me.


Bad things happen to people all the time in real life. And sometimes it’s necessary for an author to have bad things happen to characters, even main characters in a story, in order to have the characters deal with those issues. Sexual abuse is one of the issues I feel does not belong in a young adult novel unless that issue is a main component of the overall story with a necessity for it to be included in the story. To add a rape – or even the question of it – into a story as a device to provide an anger quotient high enough to prod another character into enacting violence against the perpetrator when the death of one’s parents wasn’t enough to enrage him ... well, what can I say? It was really hard to swallow. There was no ‘on-scene’ violence against the victim, but there was a lot of angsting about ‘did he or didn’t he.’ And that’s where the author totally lost me.

Okay, come on now. Really? A seventeen-year-old girl who presumably hasn’t ever had sex before, and is uneasy even holding hands with a boy, is sexually violated while unconscious and of course doesn’t remember any of the atrocity. But later on, when she regains consciousness, she has no idea anything has been done to her. Like ... immaculate consexion? Rape with no sexual side-effects is pretty unbelievable, especially when the victim was a virgin. Granted, she’s not exactly human. But she is close enough to pass as human, and her mother married a human. So it would be safe to assume that anatomically she is similar to human – at least as far as sexual activity is concerned. And yet she has no idea whether anything untoward happened. So, not only does she wonder if the boy she likes actually likes her, she wonders if the boy she used to like actually violated her. That just boggles the mind. My only assumption was that her rapist wasn’t exactly ‘up to the task.’

All snide kidding aside, this kind of treatment of a serious issue sends an unrealistic and confusing and inappropriate message to teen readers – that sex has no other side-effect but guilt and shame. What about the physical evidence? What happened to it? Sure, this is fiction, but since when is that an excuse to just ignore reality and pretend that readers won’t notice?

Adding this kind of cringing emotional issue to the end of a story that, up until that point, had no hint of sexual attraction beyond ‘oh, he’s so cute,’ just totally unbalanced the story and ruined it. All for the sake of giving someone the final justification for killing the bad guy. If the author had thought about it, I bet she could have come up with some other scenario that worked much better than pulling out the ol’ rape card. I was so disappointed in this story that, despite its okay beginning and some suspenseful moments and an enjoyable budding relationship, I gave it a ‘2’ for effort. It would have gotten a ‘3’ except for the last part that totally ruined it for me. Seriously, I would not recommend this book to anyone and won’t be reading the rest of the series. Read it if you want to waste your time and end up feeling uncomfortable and a bit angry afterward.


  1. I see "Starfire Angels" is the first of a four book series that is selling well. Good job, Melanie.

  2. Thanks for your positive comment, Walt. The reviewer's opinion is of course the reviewer's. While we did note that there were several negative reviews for book 1, and we were unable to post this review to Amazon, presumably because the 'r' or 's' word was included, it is always fair to note that free books tend to 'sell' well no matter how the reviews turn out.



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