I’ve had this book for ages and just never got around to reading it (I’m really behind on reading my ebooks, because I need to give my tablet a root canal). I figured with an American presidential election around the corner, and with the pseudo-eschatological tones of certain candidates’ campaigns, Archangel Protocol was a nice pairing. I didn’t realize it is 15 years old! Lyda Morehouse says in her preface that she resisted the urge to update it, and I respect that. I won’t rag much on the outdated feeling of this vision of the future anymore than I would stories from the 1960s. Nevertheless, while there were moments that made me smile with fierce appreciation, by and large this book was a hard one for me to like. Despite being about angels, it just seems to lack soul.
Archangel Protocol opens with a hard riff on the noir detective genre, except gender-flipped, and this is the best thing about the book. Not only is our hardboiled detected/ex-cop, Deidre McManus, a woman, but the first thing she does when her prospective client walks into her office is strongly objectify him:
Granted, masculine beauty has always been a weakness of mine, but this man literally took my breath away. Olive-skinned, tall, broad-shouldered, slender-waisted—he looked like he might have been sculpted from marble. Unfortunately, this David remembered to dress himself this morning. His fashion sense leaned toward urban combat. Leather jacket and dusty blue jeans hugged his muscular frame. He looked like a warrior sheathed in casual armor.
So instead of a femme fatale we’re subverting the trope with a male fatale, or whatever the term would be, and it’s fun. This is where I think Archangel Protocol encounters its problem: it tries to be both fun and noirish, and it can’t quite decide where to draw that line.
Then there’s the overlay of religion and religious themes. Deidre gets drawn into what appears to be a conspiracy to take over the United States, or something like that, involving fake angels that only show up on the LINK (which is like the Internet and cyberspace’s love child). Michael turns out to be an actual angel, from the for-realz heaven—or is he? I couldn’t tell if Michael and his ilk were actually supposed to be literal angels or if this was just another mindfuck hallucination of Deidre’s—and not being to tell whether this was reality or not could have been OK, but I also couldn’t tell if Morehouse was intentionally making it difficult to tell or if it was just sloppy writing. Savvy?
Either way, though, the plot is still a twisty-turning messy rubber band ball of loose ends that often doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. Take Danny, Deidre’s former partner, jailed for killing the Pope. He gets out, they meet up, he gets killed—but not before passing on a mysterious Bible he annotated. So I guess he was just a convenient plot device? The Bible, despite Deidre having to possess it, never seems to be that big a deal anyway. It’s more important that Deidre has super-awesome LINK hax0rzing skills that let her take on the Big Bad … not that I understood what kind of skills those were, because Morehouse doesn’t spend much time describing them.
Confusion. Confusion is what I primarily experienced reading Archangel Protocol, and not in a “whoa this is awesome I have no idea what’s going on but my mind is blown” kind of way. Deidre spends her time either running (while having vague metaphysical conversations with Michael) or investigating (which is a lot more interesting but never really seems to do much). In the end, I just had a hard time caring about what was happening in this book, because I didn’t really understand what was going on.
It’s a shame. Morehouse has an interesting world here. There’s a good backstory, which she doesn’t reveal through too much exposition. Deidre herself is an interesting enough character. I like her flaws; I like how, as a product of her time, she has a bit of latent homophobia even though she herself has rejected most of the evangelical and conservative notions of this future American society. I like the way she handles herself, carrying both the strength of an ex-cop out to find the truth and the fragility of someone who is so completely alone. Unfortunately, none of these things shine bright enough to eclipse the muddled plot, dull secondary characters, or weird pseudo-religious-maybe-hallucinatory angel stuff.
Though Archangel Protocol holds immense potential for excellent storytelling, Morehouse’s writing doesn’t bear up. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it and clearing it off my list—but I won’t be jumping to read the sequels any time soon.