Review of Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse
Tread of Angels
by Rebecca Roanhorse
Well ain’t this just the purdiest little novella you ever did see? I came across Tread of Angels at my library and was excited to see a new title from Rebecca Roanhorse. I love the premise and love that it is a mystery and, in some ways, a tragedy. In other words, this was a perfect distraction for a day.
Celeste is half Fallen, meaning she is descended from those who rebelled against Heaven back in the day. Thanks to her Elect father’s blood, however, she can pass as Elect. Her sister, Mariel, is not so lucky. Both of them live in Goetia, a town booming because of its proximity to the corpse of the fallen Abaddon, who decays into a resource called Divinity. When Mariel is accused of murder, Celeste takes it upon herself to defend her sister from the discriminatory prosecution of the Virtues. However, as she begins a hasty investigation into what went down, she finds her entire worldview upended. At the same time, she is forced to accept help from an old flame who tempts her beyond redemption.
I get some serious Lucifer vibes from this book. I do love me a reimagining of Christian mythology, and this one is more imaginative than most. This doesn’t surprise me, given what Roanhorse has done with Diné as well as Mexica mythologies. She is supremely skilled at adapting entire cosmogonies into new creation myths, and that’s what we are seeing here. Since this is a novella, of course, the actual worldbuilding is slimmer than you would get in a full novel (yet still deliciously richer than a mere short story would provide). Roanhorse wisely sticks closely to the narrative at hand, though I suspect many readers, like myself, will lament that this raises more questions about this world than it answers.
The actual mystery, and in particular its resolution, reminds me a little bit of The Peacekeeper, written by another Indigenous author. In both cases, the protagonist must be confronted with the prospect that their axioms are flawed, that people are far more complicated—and treacherous—than they initially wanted to believe. Roanhorse, much like B.L. Blanchard, is unflinching in her ability to put her protagonist through the wringer in this way.
I adored the simplicity of this narrative. I would love to see it as a miniseries, for example, because it is so self-contained yet supremely saturated. As Celeste plays detective, we meet any number of colourful characters who reflect her back at herself, forcing her to examine her passing privilege, to question what she really knows, and pushing herself past her own limits. The way that even Abraxas—a literal soul-taking demon—eventually throws up his hands at her and says, “I think you are going too far” is a clever and moving way to emphasize when Celeste hits her nadir.
Tread of Angels is a fast-paced, noir, tragic meditation on how far we will go for our blood, the price that might exact on us and the people who love us, and what it means to win at all costs. It was lovely to see Roanhorse flex her muscles in yet another fantastical world, and I am excited to see what she comes up with next.