Angel Mage

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
Angel Mage Book Poster Image
Riveting fantasy has fierce women, angelic magic, adventure.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Set in an imaginary world modeled after 17th century France, readers will be exposed to social, political, and environmental elements of the time. The story also takes cues from The Three Musketeers, so there are multiple connections to classic literature readers can make.

Positive Messages

Making connections with others can be mysterious and rewarding. Use the talents you have to achieve your goals and benefit others. You have a power in you that no one can take away.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The four main characters become like siblings and all have admirable qualities: intelligence, thoughtfulness, loyalty, integrity, bravery, compassion, etc. All are unique and likeable. Simeon, Agnez, and Dorotea, as well as the villain Lilath and many other powerful characters, have brown and black skin. In this fantasy world, same- and opposite-gender couplings are represented, and women hold many positions of political, religious, and military power.

Violence

Characters use swords, daggers, pistols, and heavier weapons (cannons, etc.) in warlike battle scenes to kill/defeat enemies or attackers. Liliath is gravely injured and bleeds profusely, though it is a silvery blood. Other creatures bleed gray ash blood. Descriptions of and scenes of attacking beastlings are sometimes quite scary. Liliath also uses the threat of violence/death and actual violence to coerce humans and angels into doing what she wants them to do, as well as using sex as manipulation.

Sex

Same- and opposite-sex attraction is referred to but not acted on. There's one scene in a bathhouse where characters are all naked. with brief verbal teasing that references genitals. One scene of sexual intercourse is described non-explicitly, and while consensual, it becomes clear that Liliath is using sex to manipulate the character so that he will continue to do her bidding.

Language

Expressions of dislike and insults like, "fool." No profanity.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters regularly drink wine and ale. Some minor characters drink to excess.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Angel Mage by Garth Nix is a standalone fantasy novel set in an imaginary 17th century French world that takes literary cues from The Three Musketeers. This book follows Liliath, an angel mage whose nefarious plan to reunite with her lover, the Archangel Palleniel, brings four remarkable young people together on a quest that will either destroy or save the world they know. Positive messages include loyalty to family and using your talents and power to affect change. Women and characters with brown and black skin are represented and hold positions of power. Characters use swords, daggers, pistols and other weapons in bloody hand to hand combat as well as battle scenes. Other mature content includes same- and opposite-sex attraction/coupling, as well as nudity (all described or referenced briefly) and regular wine/ale consumption. Language is very mild -- rude expressions of dislike and mild insults (e.g. "fool"). With a complex magic system, competing political and religious forces, life-or-death stakes and an epic expedition, this book has everything to satisfy teenage fantasy-loving readers.

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What's the story?

Liliath, a unnaturally gifted mage, accidentally unleashes a plague upon her people, the Ystarans in her attempt to be with her Archangel lover, Pallaniel. Magic performed near any Ystaran kills them with the Ash Blood Plague or turns them into violent, predatory beastlings. Liliath leads as many refugees as possible to neighboring Sarance, and then disappears for over a century. Awakened, she sets in motion a plan to reunite her with Pallaniel, regardless of the cost to the people she enlists to aid her return to Ystara. Four young people – Simeon, a doctor-in-training, Agnez, a swashbuckling Musketeer cadet, Henri, a clerk in the Cardinal's service, and Dorotea, a scholar, mage, and gifted icon maker – hold Liliath's keen interest and their connection is the key to her plan. The four fast friends discover a chest of treasure that once belonged to the former Queen of Sarance. A note in the chest indicates that the rest of the treasure is across the border in Ystara, so the current Queen mounts a massive expedition and compels the four friends to go along. As they travel, they race to unravel Liliath's intentions and save the world they know and love.  

Is it any good?

This captivating, swashbuckling high fantasy has everything an epic adventure needs, but avoids the predictable with skilled worldbuilding, fascinating characters, and a high-stakes story. The 17th century France-like setting, where women and people of color lead, same- and opposite-sex love are equally accepted, and angels are summoned for magical help in everything from the mundane, like cleaning, to the extraordinary, such as reviving a life, never feels forced or uneasy. They are just the facts of life for this book. The characters are well drawn and interesting. Simeon, the imposing and attractive doctor, saves the day repeatedly. Agnez is a particular joy as a fierce, good-natured swordswoman ready to duel anyone with a word against her. Treasure-seeking Henri provides comic relief, while intelligent Dorotea unnerves and disarms people with her lack of common courtesy. Even the villain Liliath gets a compelling backstory.

The action is generally fast-paced and always interesting, with dips into the political and religious intrigue between the power players of this story. The plot holds and slowly unravels several mysteries that are a delight to attempt to guess at while reading. There's also a refreshing lack of a full-blown love story here, a rarity in books for teens these days. Yet another not-to-be-missed gem from fantasy master Garth Nix.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the four young people at the heart of Angel Mage. Which character strengths do Simeon, Agnez, Henri, and Dorotea bring to this story? Who do you find the most interesting or inspiring? Why?

  • This book takes cues from the classic story The Three Musketeers. If you are familiar with that story, how is this one alike and different? Why do authors like to build on older stories to tell new ones?

  • Women wield a lot of power in public and private life in this story. How did knowing that women were in charge affect your experience of the story?

Book details

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For kids who love history and fantasy

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