Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse

In this novella Rebecca Roanhorse once again shows off her world-building skills. I was intrigued from the very start by the genre-defying world Roanhorse envisions in Tread of Angels. The story unfolds in Goetia, a town ruled by the mighty Order of the Archangels that is ‘segregated’ between the Elects and the Fallen. Celeste, our protagonist, who is the result of a union between these two factions, can, unlike her younger sister, ‘pass’ and was able to grow up with her father within the Elect society. After he dies, Celeste joins her sister in the Fallen ‘slums’, where they work in the same gambling/drinking joint, Celeste as a cards dealer, Mariel as a singer.
Things take a turn for the worst when Mariel is accused and arrested for murder, the murder of a Virtue. Celeste, who sees herself as her sister’s protector, takes on the role of advocatus diaboli to defend her. To get to the truth behind the Virtue’s murder, she begins investigating the shady dealings of the upper echelons of Goetia’s society. Her ex-lover, the demon lord Abraxas, aids her, but his motivations are far from selfless…

I liked the novella’s ambience and quick pace. Roanhorse manages to combine elements from the paranormal romance genre, especially when it came to the dynamic & scenes between Celeste & Abraxas, with a gritty western-inspired setting, and a touch of noir aesthetics. Celeste is not a particularly well-rounded character but she serves the role of amateur detective attempting to race against the clock well enough. Abraxas…yikes. I am sure plenty of readers will find him sexy and sensual, but he gave me sleaze vibes. He had the kind of cringe-sigma-male energy that I have come to associate with Sarah J. Maas’ love interests. Mariel was the most unconvincing character in the lot, and I found most of her lines ridiculous (i would feel more forgiving about her characterisation if say this novella had been written 100 years ago).
Although the characters are fairly one-note and the plot is, despite its inventive setting, fairly formulaic, I still found myself entertained by Roanhorsre’s storytelling. We have an edgy atmosphere and even edgier dialogues, that make for a cheesy but nevertheless engrossing tale. Additionally, besides delivering on entertainment value, the novella uses the disparity between the various citizens of Goetia to discuss privilege—from Celeste’s ability to ‘pass’ to the advantages and benefits enjoyed by Elects—and discrimination—the Fallen are exploited and regarded as second-class citizens.

The novella’s open-ended finale makes me wonder whether we will get to read more works by Roanhorse set in Goetia or that will follow Celeste…if that’s the case, consider me intrigued as I do think that some of the issues I had with Tread of Angels, such as Celeste being a tad bland, could be improved in the sequels.

If you are a fan of short stories & novellas published by tor or happen to like authors like Elizabeth Bear (Karen Memory) or Catherynne M. Valente you should definitely add Tread of Angels to your tbr list.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

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