Nostalgia Friday: Dark Angel, by L J Smith

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Publication Date – December 1996

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Gillian Lennox is saved from death by an angel who becomes her guardian. But after helping her become popular at school, the angels begins to make bizarre demands–enough for Gillian to wonder what she has brought back from the other side.

Thoughts: While this wasn’t one of the best of the Night World books, you can definitely see Smith getting more comfortable with writing the world she’s created, and that alone raises the book’s standing in my eyes. It’s a good thing, too, because while the previous books have all dealt with people who are very much in the centre of the Night World society, Dark Angel deals with Gillian, a rather shy and reserved girl who only discovers that she’s part of a lost witch family thanks to a guardian spirit she calls Angel. The book brushes the edges of the Night World, for the most part, never really taking the plunge, and it makes for interesting reading, and a surprise departure from what I came to expect from the novels.

Gillian meets Angel during her near-death experience, and when he returns with her to the world of the living, he does assume the role of a guardian to her, helping her to improve her life by gaining popularity and the guy she’s had a crush on for years. She learns that popularity has its downsides, however, and in trying to quash somebody’s revenge scheme, she learns from Angel that she is actually a witch and can cast spells, thus leading her to curse the perpetrators of said revenge fantasy. Blindly following Angel’s instructions, though, the curse was out of proportion to the crime, and was the first hint that Angel might not be as divine as she thinks.

Smith does a very good job of showing the balance behind things, and not falling prey to stereotyping, something I see a lot of when it comes to dealing with the so-called “popular crowd” in YA novels. It’s a little cheesy, I admit, but Gillian learns that being popular will not solve all of her problems, but it’s not done in a way that feels over the top. Some people in the popular crowd are there because people fear them too much to show how much they’re not liked. Others turn out to be quite nice people, with problems of their own. Many YA novels I’ve read have the portrayal of popular people as beautiful teens who are nearly always mean under a thin glaze of niceness, with maybe one or two genuinely nice people in the whole bunch, who inevitably become the main character’s close and true friends. There’s more variety shown here, with more instances of people being people, truly varied creatures with more depth than many authors give teens credit for.

The romance was also quite interesting. Angel insists he’s Gillian’s soulmate, and will do just about anything to help her. Gillian is more interested in David, and takes Angel’s advice on how to attract his attention. Gillian even thinks to herself at one point that there’s no denying she loves both David and Angel, each somewhat differently but no less deeply than the other, which is wonderful to see in teenage fiction, especially in a story in which One True Love actually exists.

If it had any great failing, it was that it did nothing to really further the overarching plot of the entire Night World series. It revealed precious little that the previous three novels hadn’t told us, and what it did reveal it did so in passing, and then right at the end. It seemed to have little place in the continuum of the larger story, and much like Daughters of Darkness, it could have been skipped without any great loss to the reader.

Though it wasn’t the greatest book in the series, it definitely did have its good points, and I was pleased to see some real depth to the character, especially when you consider just how short the book is. But as I said previously, it can be skipped without much worry if what you want is to see how the series progresses. “Take it or leave it” is my final verdict, unless you’re a completionist and can’t bear to skip a book in a series.

One comment on “Nostalgia Friday: Dark Angel, by L J Smith

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