For weeks now, I’ve been feeling some worrisome pull list fatigue. But one of the benefits of being burned out on the usual is that it can inspire a reader to seek stories that are off the beaten path. I picked up A Flight of Angels on a light Wednesday, and it’s a gem.
Conceived and illustrated by Rebecca Guay, A Flight of Angels is a visually stunning graphic novel that draws the reader into a world of mythical creatures and fanciful tales. Angels are often thought of as divine protectors or avengers, but this book offers a complex portrait of the heavenly beings.
When an unconscious angel falls from the sky, a group of woodland characters — a faerie, a wily fox, a faerie lord, a hag and her faun slave among them — gather around it and hold a tribunal to determine its fate. Four of the players tell a self-contained story, supposedly to reveal the “true” nature of angels. These tales may or may not be real, but the lowliest among them is charged with evaluating them and deciding whether the angel deserves to live or die.
Writers Holly Black, Louise Hawkes, Alisa Kwitney, Todd Mitchell and Bill Willingham contribute different chapters that display the power and frailty of the angels at the center of each story. Sometimes they suck at their jobs. They express regret over drinks and fall hopelessly in love. They can also be calculating and deceitful, as shown in “Original Sin,” a mesmerizing version of the classic Adam and Eve story.
Guay shifts art styles throughout, including some ethereal painted sequences that have a serious “wow” factor. Though all the stories are interesting, some aren’t as substantial as the art that accompanies them. Todd Mitchell’s chapter about an angel enchanted by a clumsy maid is romantic, but the relationship between the two lovers is so underdeveloped that the ending doesn’t fully grab the heart. I found myself wanting to know more about the characters in Willingham’s “The Story of the Story Within,” which puts angels in a more contemporary, earthbound setting.
However, Black’s framing narrative remains captivating as the storytellers in the woods spin their yarns. The character sketches, especially that of the vain faerie Lord Neveling, are revealing but subtle. The tribunal maintains the suspense until the last possible moment, so the moment of judgment is a real surprise. Do not skip ahead.
Guay’s work alone makes A Flight of Angels worth the price of admission, and when the story rises to the occasion, the effect is magical. Grade: A-