Strange Angels is the first YA book by renowned fantasy author Lili St. Crow. Fans of St. Crow’s Dante Valentine and Night Hunter series will be excited to know that Ms. St. Crow has not watered down her style for the young adult audience. The book is rife with foul language and teens who smoke, drink, mouth off to their teachers, and run away from home.
Not many people know about the “Real World,” the world of spooks, suckers, and werewulfen, but Dru Anderson and her father do. They wander from town to town, hunting things that go bump in the night. Dru has something called “the touch,” a kind of sixth sense that lets her know when bad things are about to happen and grants her a proficiency at creating wards, casting hexes, and other paranormal hunter support skills. As a result, she winds up running backup for her dad, or staying home and protecting their rental house while he is off hunting vampires. One such night, Dru’s pop comes home from a hunt as a rotting zombie, and after some speedy gun work, Dru is on her own in the big bad world. Whatever killed her father is after her, and she has nowhere to run.
The fallout of Dru’s father’s death becomes the main thrust of Strange Angels. We follow Dru as she accidentally enlists the help of a half-vampire and a half-werewolf, vampire-proofs her house, and tracks down the baddie responsible for her father’s grotesque demise. St. Crow keeps us in our young protagonist’s head, and watching Dru’s bitter misanthropy melt as she makes her first real friend is quite enjoyable. The subtlety of this transition is well-crafted and believable. The action sequences are gripping and precise.
Most of the flaws are issues of plot and story. By St. Crow’s own admission, Strange Angels is her Buffy/Supernatural-inspired tale, but really it’s a knock-off. A tough-as-nails teen girl that all the boys like moves to a new town and finds out the meanest, nastiest vampire in history is chilling right there in Podunk, U.S.A. An ex-military pop is out hunting the thing that killed his saintly wife. Expect Dru’s friend Graves to have more pithy one-liners if the book appears as a show on the CW’s fall line-up. Now, I won’t fault St. Crow for fusing ideas that work, even if Dru is very Buffy Summers and her dad is very Pop Wincester, and the love triangle between a vampire, werewolf, and human instantly raises Twilight flashbacks. Despite these similarities, Strange Angels holds a great many cool ideas rarely seen in comparable fiction. A Lone Wolf and Cub analogue with the father and daughter, an assistant having to take the reins once the warrior falls (think R2-D2 going up against Darth Vader because Luke gets hosed on Tatooine), and a chilling supernatural story set in the Dakotas during a blizzard (not too many stories are set there). Perhaps most interesting is the backstory showing Dru’s grandmother as a kind of Appalachian witch. One gets the sense that there is a lot of history to this brand of mountain voodoo, but it is never revealed to the reader. And that’s the problem. All these cool ideas, and they never get a chance to shine. I’d much rather watch Dru fight evil with a mortar and pestle than a nine-millimeter, but there she goes, running around for three hundred pages with a gun in her hands.
Even the love triangle suffers. Dru runs around for two-thirds of the book before one of her two gentleman callers shows up and tells her what’s really going on. This feels like the story’s real inciting incident. Before this, Dru has no direction, and never lets us know what the endgame is. It takes way too long for the real story to get cooking, and I spent most of the first half on cruise control, wondering when we were going to get to the real plot.
In the end, a few hints about Dru’s past and future are revealed, but we don’t get the grand finish we expected. She doesn’t get revenge. No vampires are slain. Is this dissatisfaction excused because Strange Angels is the first part of a trilogy? I’m not sure. In the traditional sense, a trilogy is supposed to be made up of three stories each with a standalone arc that work together to form a cohesive single story. The resolution to Strange Angels frustrates because it doesn’t feel like the end of a story. The book has just started to get going and then it’s over, without any strong climax or conclusion. So it never feels like a three hundred-page book, but the first three hundred pages of a nine hundred-page book.
Even so, if you are a fan of ballsy heroines and deferred gratification, go out and pick up a copy of Strange Angels.