Reviewed by Amy Sondova
Breath of Angel by Karyn Henley
"Other than these gaping theological issues, Breath of Angel is a good read—one I would gladly recommend if Henley has chosen to use something other than angels."
A thrilling novel about humans, angels, and immortals, Breath of Angel is an interesting addition to the ranks of fantasy work by Christian authors. From the start, I knew that humans and angels had to work together to restore the stairway to Heaven, so I was interested in seeing how a publishing company focused on Christian literature would tackle the theological quagmire sure to erupt in Breath of Angel. The short answer is—they didn’t.
The plot itself revolves around Melaia, a young priestess whose life is thrown into chaos when a winged angel falls into the courtyard temple and dies in front of her. Suddenly, all the mythical stories Melaia has heard about angels turn out to be true—angels do exist. Since the stairway to heaven was destroyed, many angels have become earthbound, choosing to live with, and in some cases, marry humans. Melaia learns that it is her duty to restore this staircase by breath of angel and blood of man as she tries to navigate the world of angels, figure out her romantic feelings for a certain someone, and save the day. The first in the Angeleon Circle series, Breath of Angel has a steady plot line that doesn’t disappoint.
While I immensely enjoyed Breath of Angel, I feel confused. I know what the Bible tells me about angels, what I’ve learned from pastors and theologians, and even researched the mysterious “Nephilim.” The angels in this book are nothing like the Bible’s depiction of angels. I find it disturbing when fallen angels (or angels in general) choose to live and breed with humans, creating angel/human hybrids, and a book like this encourages the idea that humans can and should fall in love with angels and that angels have an identity apart from serving God. To me, this is very dangerous.
However, Henley also invents a different world—another kingdom—in which all this plays out, so one could argue that these angels are more like elves or fairies. Therefore, perhaps the author isn’t trying to make a theological argument, just write a fantasy novel with angels, half-angels, humans, and some other creatures. But, then, why not call them elves? Or fairies? Or something else entirely? Why did Henley choose angels to be the paranormal stars in her novel?
Henley plays off Christian theology and Scripture–such as the hierarchy of angels (though she renames them), the idea that angels are in the presence of God (who she refers to as “the Most High”), the Nephilim and theory that angels or demons did marry humans at one point in history (found in the books of Genesis and Numbers), Jacob’s ladder (Jacob’s dream/vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to Heaven), and finally, the mention in the book of Genesis that the Garden of Eden was closed to Adam and Eve and humankind so that they could not eat from the Tree of Life and become immortal. However, none of these are clearly explained mixing theology and imagination in a way that could be damaging to young Christians, who may incorrectly believe these fantastical renderings to be Scriptural truths about angels. Also, I believe this promotes an unhealthy interest in angelology and the unhealthy worship of angels themselves.
Here are a few of the renderings of angels that bother me in light of the authority of the Bible:
1. Angels control the elements appearing as wind, fire, and so forth. This seems to be a misrepresentation of God appearing as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night when leading the Israelites out of Egypt. He also appeared to the prophet, Elijah, as a “gentle whisper.”
2. Humans and angels are friends. Never in Scripture does this happen; angels seem to serve a purpose, send a message, and then are on their way. Angels do spend time at Lot’s house and save his family from the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah, but that’s about it. (Unless you include the references in the New Testament in which Jesus was ministered to by angels after his 40 days in the desert.)
3. Humans and angels are more than friends. Again, we come back to the Nephilim–referenced in Genesis and Numbers, but no one really understands who or what the Nephilim are. The Bible says that in heaven we will be like angels who do not marry. This is problematic when considering the marriages and offspring between angels, angels and humans, as well as angels and immortals. There is no evidence that offspring from these unions is possible or even probable given that humans and angels are different creatures with different purposes. From my understanding of Scripture, angels are genderless (though only appearing as men to humans in the Bible) and do not reproduce.
4. Angels do things other than serving God. Nowhere do angels do anything but serve God, except for Satan and the fallen angels, who refuse to serve God.
5. The malevolents or “bad angels” are at the bidding of an immortal human. This gives humans way too much power. Perhaps it will come out later in the series that the malevolents are secretly using the humans to wage war against the vaguely mentioned “Most High,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case in the first book of the series. Demons are kept in check by God, but can very much affect humans as seen in the book of Job as well as the references to the demoniacs in the Gospels.
Other than these gaping theological issues, Breath of Angel is a good read—one I would gladly recommend if Henley has chosen to use something other than angels. I am just unsettled by this author’s depiction of angels, find it contradictory to the Bible, and cannot endorse this book.
Sondova is a writer specializing in media writing, including interviews and reviews,
as well as blogging. Having interviewed over
30 of the top musicians, writers, and speakers in the Christian media, Amy has
also written countless columns, reviews, and articles on various topics including
mental illness, self-injury, working with teenagers, and Christianity. As well
as holding a B.A. in communications, Amy holds a M.A. in biblical counseling,
and has worked as a professional therapist. You can visit Amy’s online
playground at BackseatWriter.com which offers a combination interviews, reviews,
personal columns, and photography.