Book Reviews

[review] A Temptation of Angels – Michelle Zink

Release Date: March 20, 2012
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin)
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover
Source: ARC received from publisher

Even angels make mistakes in this page-turning epic romance… 

When her parents are murdered before her eyes, sixteen-year-old Helen Cartwright finds herself launched into an underground London where a mysterious organization called the Dictata controls the balance of good and evil. Helen learns that she is one of three remaining angelic descendants charged with protecting the world’s past, present, and future. Unbeknownst to her, she has been trained her whole life to accept this responsibility. Now, as she finds herself torn between the angelic brothers protecting her and the devastatingly handsome childhood friend who wants to destroy her, she must prepare to be brave, to be hunted, and above all to be strong, because temptation will be hard to resist, even for an angel. 

Tell Me More: When I was sixteen years old, I was incredibly naive, idealistic and a bit reckless. I certainly couldn’t have been placed in the position of saving an entire race, and I definitely would not have had two gorgeous boys fighting over lil’ ol’ me. Why? Probably because I was sixteen, incredibly naive, idealistic and a bit reckless. Also, I wasn’t the “heroine” of a YA paranormal romance series.

More and more, the trends in YA fiction veer towards these soaring feats of power and dramatic escapes from death. Both the Harry Potter and Twilight series tell stories of great power discovered in oneself, though we can all agree to disagree as to which one is actually great literature. The point is, teens are in a very precarious position: they are given responsibility, but (hopefully) not enough of it to ruin themselves. They are expected to know better than their younger siblings, but they are still dismissed as “too young.” Books provide them with an escape hatch from the roller coaster of adolescence, and I certainly don’t blame anyone for enjoying that. But where do we draw the line between escape and harmful idealism?

The plotline of A Temptation of Angels is pretty standard for a YA paranormal story: girl is in trouble, girl meets mysterious boy, girl discovers she has super special secret powers, girl meets even more mysterious bad boy, girl saves the world, girl is still torn (*sob!*) between boys. Let’s switch it up, shall we? What happens if we put the boy in the girl’s place? Wouldn’t so-called feminists rail at the audacity of this boy? “He can’t be in love with two girls, that’s not fair! He needs to pick one! He’s a manwhore and a jerk!” And yet, it’s perfectly fine for a girl to lead both boys along? Oh, but see, she’s beautiful. She’s absolutely gorgeous, and she’s smart, and she’s good-hearted AND the best part? She has no idea that she’s this amazing. Helen isn’t a relatable heroine. She’s a Barbie doll, upon whom young impressionable girls will attach all their insecurities and dreams and wishes.

The term heroine is thrown about so often these days that it’s begun to lose its meaning. The dictionary defines it as:

A woman admired or idealized for her courage or noble qualities.

Not once is appearance mentioned. Can you name a YA bestseller with a less-than-gorgeous heroine? I am sure they exist, but I certainly don’t hear about them. Covers depict beautiful models in flowing gowns, men who look nothing like the usual score of high school boys. As a Fine Arts student, I understand the need for aesthetics, but I also think that it does readers a disservice. We are led to believe that every heroine needs to look like that, that it’s the only way to find men like that, and frankly, I do feel a little insulted. Helen asks some questions for which the answers are rather obvious, and yet we’re expected to see her as this perfect person? Forgive me if I found myself getting up close and personal with my desk again and again. The reader is also asked to believe that Helen’s “courage and noble qualities” are natural traits, but considering every time Griffin has to save her because of a reckless decision, I don’t quite see her that way. Courage is also knowing when to fight.

Speaking of fighting, Helen’s two love interests are, at best, lackluster copies of Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes (Gone With the Wind). They love her, oh how they love her. But…why? I don’t subscribe to the belief that real love is something you can develop in a few days, and I just didn’t see enough evidence of it in this book to suspend my disbelief. These kids may have great powers, but they are still kids. Contrary to popular opinion (at least in a bookstore’s YA section), falling in love is not something you enter into lightly. It’s also important to consider the tropes that Helen “falls in love” with. Griffin is a good boy, Raum is bad. She’s known them for a few days at best, and yet she’s swept away by…what exactly? Passion is not equal to love. I feel passionately for my bookshelf, but I don’t love it and I certainly don’t expect it to love me. Helen is sixteen, and I find it patently ridiculous that I am asked to accept her adventures as just another YA story, when they don’t seem to be based in any reality I can understand. Yes, I do expect common sense and you know, a desire to stay alive and be safe to exist in YA books. Whether they are set in Timbuktu or the farthest regions of outer space, I expect characters to rise above their tropes and give readers something to invest in and ponder beyond the last page.

You can love all the problematic stories you can find. That’s totally fine, and I don’t expect everyone to throw off things they enjoy just because there are flaws. But in light of the trends that are dominating the YA scene and its target audience, it becomes even more important to address those issues and provide venues to discuss them and their effect on society. Personally, I am unable to ignore those social issues when I find them, which can make it difficult to enjoy a lot of the books that are being released. I am very disappointed that I couldn’t enjoy A Temptation of Angels, especially since I loved Ms. Zink’s previous work.

The Final Say: A Temptation of Angels won’t be finding its way on any of my recommendation lists any time soon. Paranormal romance fans will find much to love, but should they attempt to pick the story and themes apart, the illusion will be shattered.

Be sure to visit Michelle Zink at her website and follow her on Twitter @michellezink.

You can check out A Temptation of Angels on Goodreads and order it from The Book Depository.

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4 replies »

  1. I completely understand your issues with YA books lately. I love your line “She’s a Barbie doll, upon whom young impressionable girls will attach all their insecurities and dreams and wishes.” It’s so true of most heroines in YA books these days! That’s what I loved about The Girl of Fire and Thorns, the female heroine was not a beautiful girl, she describes herself as pudgy. The more reviews I see on this book the less I want to read it. Thanks for the great review!

  2. Wow. Loved the rant. Especially because it’s wasn’t so much targeted at “A Temptation of Angels” but at the industry as a whole. (Though I definately picked up no the dislike for “Temptation.”) You hit the nail on the head on why I get mad at so many YA books. And I’ll probably be skipping this book, though it wasn’t on my TBR list anyway.

    This is the exact reason I don’t read paranormal romances. And hate girls that end up being princesses/special warriors/the ones…And love triangles.

  3. Great rant! I’m scared to read this now just because it sounds like it’s the same reason I don’t like a lot of the YA I’ve read. They’re so formulaic with nothing else to make up for it. I’ll still have to read it since I requested it from the publisher, but I’m afraid my review might end up almost the same as yours.

  4. Ick! I hate the “Barbie doll” style character. It doesn’t appeal to me at all. It especially kills me when they all have such thick, luscious hair. When I was in high school I didn’t know two things about doing my hair. Why do all these girls have amazing flawless hair no matter what they’re doing?

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