A Rosary of Stones and Thorns by M.C.A. Hogarth
Walking into this novel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d found Hogarth in a circle on online writers I knew on Twitter, and saw that she had started a Kickstarter to make her novel, Rosary, into a full book as opposed to the serial it had started as. I had just obtained my Nook Tablet, and saw that for not too much money, I could donate and obtain the e-book. Also, it had something to do with angels – an easy way to sell me. I chipped in, and when the Kickstarter was funded, I got my e-book. I read a few chapters in, and then got distracted and had to put it down.
But when I picked it back up again…oh, that time – there was no putting it down.
Rosary is a new and unusual look into the world of angels and religion, in a sense. We follow a Jesuit priest, by the name of Stephen, and the angel Asrial in a quest against the end of the world. When an angel is kicked out of heaven – like Lucifer and his kin – the angel is stripped of his or her halo. However, Asrial finds that the halos of all the fallen are kept and preserved by God – and runs to the Archangel Michael to urge him into action. Being an angel of war, Michael has no time for her, and pushes her out of heaven himself for thinking such things. She finds herself in a parking lot – where she meets Stephen – and together with a little help from a few friends, they begin to try and mend the damage done by finding her a way to heaven – and hopefully, a way for the fallen to reclaim their halos.
I’ve been working on a series with angels in it myself lately, thus the basic premise caught my attention first. But what Hogarth does at the book progresses is textbook: she sets up a simple plot line, sets in it interesting characters, and lets them grow in it and twist it as they will – and makes us care about them all the while. You feel for Asrial’s passion – the desire to see the wrong righted, and you push for her to succeed…and cringe when she falls. (I told the author, I had to stop reading at one point because I was flinching away from the book and had my breath caught in my throat.) You breathe with Stephen, keeping calm even when everything he’s known as a priest is on a razor’s edge – and the times he’s truly tested, you hold your breath for him, waiting to see his response. Even the more sideline members of the party draw you in: the demon they find quickly became one of my favorite characters, and the two highschoolers roped in for the ride are perfect humor.
The other characters that really struck me are the ones that battle a little more prominently with the religion of the book – characters like Michael and Gabriel, and of course, Lucifer himself. Written with grace and ease, Hogarth manages to create believable and sympathetic characters without leaving a reader born into the Christian faith feeling like they’ve been made into puppets to her will. There were more than a few times that I was left yelling at the screen of my Nook at Michael for his actions – but as a herald of war, I’m not surprised by it. Lucifer especially was handled exceptionally well, and the concept of how he and the others fell into Hell, an superb explanation. Using the common beliefs of the Christian (and especially Jesuit/Roman Catholic) faith, it takes some things that believers know for certain and others that were never dreamed of, and puts them all at risk for re-interpretation – but not without explanation and care being given to the original tale. (A personal satisfaction was the drop-in mention of Judas Iscariot, and how that particular line of belief was handled. What can I say; I’m a sucker for Iscariot.) And above all, the major twist in Stephen’s faith when they’re first entering Hell is one of the most chilling moments I’ve felt in fiction in a long time – and handled perfectly.
Overall, I think this is a book well worth the money paid. It will stay contently on my Nook – and when I have a bit more flex room, it will likely join the bookshelf as a tangible book (an honor only afforded to those books that I truly enjoy). If you like books with a captivating narrative style, enjoyable characters, with just a flair of Pratchett/Gaiman Good Omens humor peeking through now and then, pick up this book. You won’t be disappointed.
A Rosary of Stones and Thorns is available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords.