Vampires, zombies, and now angels: ever since Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight became the gold standard by which young-adult romances are measured in the twenty-first century, publishing houses have been trying to hit upon the next soul-mates-and-supernatural YA love story. And thanks to Alexandra Adornetto’s Halo, the angels angle just might stick.
Just fourteen when she published her first novel, The Shadow Thief, in her native Australia, Adornetto is now eighteen and the author of four books. With Halo, she makes her U.S. debut, and it’s a strong one.
Halo begins with the earthly arrival of three “Angels of Light”: Ivy, Gabriel (yes, that archangel), and Bethany. They have been divinely dispatched to Venus Cove, a small coastline town on the cliffs above the Pacific Coast. Their initial goal is to integrate themselves—slowly and innocuously—into the community, doing good works and spreading love, but their ultimate mission is to take control of Venus Cove before the Dark Forces do. In the ultimate of Holy Wars, the good Lord of Halo understands the need for a quick and ready offense.
Settling into life in Venus Cove, Ivy volunteers in the community, organizing food drives and planning activities at the local retirement home. Gabriel and Bethany spend their days at the Bryce Hamilton School, Gabriel as a music teacher and Bethany as a senior at the toney private academy. Ivy and Gabriel have “been around for centuries; they had fought battles and witnessed human atrocities.” Bethany, on the other hand, is just seventeen years old, an angel “in the purest, most vulnerable form.” Unlike her angelic siblings, who’ve “had all of time to acquire strength and power to protect them on earth,” Bethany has never experienced life in human form. Physically, she’s more fragile than they are, more susceptible to the frailties and indignities of the human body—pain, hunger, teenage hormones.
And her connection to human beings is different, as well. Chosen for the mission because of her ability to empathize, she really isn’t ready for the task: “Becoming human had really thrown me,” she explains. “I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of it.” Bethany’s ability to “love deeply, unconditionally—like a human” is what makes her special, but it’s also what puts her at risk. As Bethany soon finds, what she’s most unprepared for is Xavier Woods. The relationship between Bethany and Xavier is the novel’s driving force, of course. It’s intense, full of angst, longing, and grand declarations of love. (Also, its force has already netted for its teen author contracts for two sequels, due in 2011 and 2012.)
Forget the hype surrounding her age: Adornetto can write. Her prose is fluid and her ability to sustain a novel’s pacing impressive. If there are complaints to be made about Halo, it’s in the melodrama and the knock-you-over-the-head symbolism. Bethany’s full human name is Bethany Church. Xavier possesses a “dazzling smile.” Thorn, a character with a “smoldering gaze,” has a “serpent wound around his forearm.” Cue the dark and foreboding music.
Running through the last half of the book are constant references to Xavier’s protection of Bethany. He is her “bodyguard” and she “relish[es] the safety of his presence.” He’s so protective of Bethany and keeps such vigilant watch over her well-being that one day he even—accidentally, one must hope—answers for her in class. In the “real” world, that’s not love; that’s a big, fat warning sign. Xavier’s a sweet boy, but if Bethany feels her own wits aren’t good enough for this world and require protection, the warrior archangel Gabriel might be a better bet. Besides, she’s an angel…on a mission from God.
In the context of the Twilight series, these concerns could be considered quibbles, however. Bethany and Xavier’s love is all-consuming, never mind that the laws of heaven and earth are standing in the way of eternal happiness. Adolescence lends itself to melodrama, and Adornetta has captured the intensity of a time of life when every decision carries a sense of urgency and every relationship is experienced as if its participants will never love again. Cynics beware: Halo’s a fun read, and angels are this year’s new supernatural stars.
Alexandra Adornetto will read from Halo at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis on October 1 at 4 p.m.