by Caleb T. Brabham
Genre: Fantasy / Humor
Print Length: 158 pages
Reviewed by Tucker Lieberman
A witty satire starring angels, demons, and hapless Biblical humans
Millenia ago: Eve has eaten the fruit in the Garden of Eden. She had been “connected, tighter than chains, closer than blood” to the Almighty, but now, she isn’t anymore. It’s the Godthread that broke.
Now: Azrael Abaddon, a fallen angel, receives a message in the form of three pieces of forbidden fruit from the Biblical Tree of Life at his den in Sheolum (Hell). Ordinarily,“the only truly living thing” you’d find is a cockroach. Mindful of Eve’s history, he believes the fruit is an invitation to talk. Suspicious, he travels to Heaven only to be hired by Eve for a seemingly innocuous task: reunite her with her firstborn, Cain.
Soon, the question is: Who has killed Morningstar, the Devil? Who would have done it? The Almighty? Or is the presumed murder just another of the Devil’s deceptions?
Godthread is told in a hard-boiled detective voice, one that’s self-conscious that it’s all a joke and one that would lend itself well to a sitcom. While there are children’s classics told with similar irony (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth), Godthread has lovable monsters with scarier faces and existential conflict, such as the possibility that you could die but not die, that will appeal to humorous fantasy readers.
Azrael meets characters like Krysis, the four-headed angel in charge of judgment, whose various heads have the faces of a lion, an ox, an eagle with pupils like “shattered yolks,” and a despairing man reflecting the “expression of the deepest pits of Sheolum.” There are the Ophanim, “spinning wheels covered in eyes” who communicate in binary code since they have no mouths.
Azrael also encounters a faceless angel he once knew as Samael. Just as Azrael himself was once an angel but is now a demon, Samael too has changed, and “she was Death.” In a flashback, Samael has the corpse of the unfortunate Abel in her clutches. The dead man’s mother, in fresh mourning, yells after her other son: “Where is Cain? I’ll kill him! Let me kill him!” Cain “muttered something about not being responsible for wiping his brother’s nose,” a sentiment which, Brabham points out, you may have heard adapted for the Bible in more genteel language.
If you know a lot of Bible stories, you’ll recognize some characters here. But you’ll take new paths in witty ways with them. If you’re expecting similar storytelling to other books within the religious fantasy genre, this is not the demon-infested satire for you. Combined with the humor are the metaphysical questions (however humorous) that you’d hope for in a book of angels and demons.
Exploration of religious myths leads us to ask big questions about why good and evil are fighting, why everything is organized just this way, where we’re all heading, and why we’re in this handbasket. “The key to the world,” Azrael argues with the Almighty, “is that enough of it has to remain broken for some of it to be fixed.” Everything’s relative. It all shares a context. The borders of Hell are porous. Which is to say, in my view, we do occasionally need to hear a demon narrate a novel.
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