The Fallen, Ada Hoffman (Angry Robot 978-0-857-66868-4, $14.99, 400pp, tp) July 2021.
I should probably confess that I don’t remember very much of the detail of Ada Hoffmann’s debut The Outside, except that I enjoyed it and wanted to read the sequel. I read it before this endless year of our pandemic, after all, and so many other things have crowded my skull since. Now that The Fallen, its sequel, is here, I find to my good fortune I don’t actually need to remember all that much: Hoffmann has done a great job at making The Fallen easy to – ahem – fall into, even if you’ve only retained “cosmic horror,” “AI gods with no consciences,” and “attempted anti-god revolution.”
Productivity “Tiv” Hunt has somehow ended up as the nominal leader of a resistance movement. She’s a problem-solver and a co-ordinator, but the area of the planet that’s been affected by “outside” forces, the Chaos Zone, where the rules have changed, is basically under military occupation by the “angels” that enforce the laws of the gods. The angels will contain the Chaos Zone, and eventually manufacture a reason to wipe it and its inhabitants out. Tiv and her team are helping the inhabitants as best they can, passing messages and helping to redistribute supplies, but Tiv’s commitment to nonviolent resistance is being strained by the desperation of the people she’s trying to help.
Tiv is the only member of her team – a group of seven former students of the renegade Dr. Evianna Talirr – not to have magical, outside-related powers. They are all neurodivergent to start with, and have been damaged by long isolation or torture at the hands of angels on top of that. Tiv’s lover, Yasira, is the most powerful, but her exertions at the end of The Outside caused her to develop multiple personalities, all pulling her in different directions and making it difficult to decide on what she should do.
One strand of The Fallen is about Tiv and her people. Another is about fallen angel Elu and his long-term crush on his former superior, revenge-driven Akavi. Elu rescued both himself and Akavi from angelic punishment and now they’re outlaws. Akavi wants revenge on Tiv and Yasira. Elu… wants Akavi to like him back. Akavi’s not built that way.
The Fallen is a novel that is interested in the nature of resistance to hegemony, in community, in connections between people. It asks questions about the need for violence in resisting violence, about the problems of power, about truth and lies, history and propaganda. It marries a thriller plot – or three – to a deep concern with communities, compassion, and mutual aid. It explores neurodivergence and disability from a point of view that sees them as intrinsic parts of the human experience, as opposed to problems to be fixed: a welcome, and refreshing, approach.
I find it difficult to discuss in detail what The Fallen is doing. It feels like a middle book, the centre of a trilogy, where the protagonists build on what’s come before and set up for a final showdown: triumph is followed by reversal. (The Fallen does not indicate in its copy or marketing that it is a middle book of a trilogy, but I’m nearly certain that it is.) It moves, but its action is largely personal, centred on the characters’ inner lives. It’s compelling, but the scale is smaller than I expected.
I enjoyed it a lot, mind you. Roll on the next sequel!
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, her Patreon, or Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.
This review and more like it in the July 2021 issue of Locus.
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