There aren't words enough to express how gorgeous this book is. Fans of the Unearthly who might have worried whether Cynthia Hand could deliver a second installment that would do justice to the story need worry no longer. This sequel lives up to and exceeds every expectation I had for it, and I only wish I could hand this book to every single would-be author who is even considering writing a YA paranormal romance. Because this is the template for what every teen romance/sophomore/angel book should aspire to be.
As the story opens, Clara is still recovering from the fire in which she went against her "purpose" as a part-angel in order to follow her heart. Her brother Jeffrey is still acting strange, Angela is helping Clara to test her powers, and eventually, we are introduced to an important congregation of angels and learn more about their purpose on earth. Best of all, we get some fabulous time with Tucker as he and Clara further enjoy what has to be one of the sweetest and truest young adult romances ever put to page. I could not stop smiling as I was reading the story, because their relationship is just so warm and happy and perfect. I love that, in the middle of all of Clara's bigger-than-life abilities and problems, she and Tucker still have such an amazing time together doing such blessedly normal and human things.
We all knew what was coming next, though, right? Christian was such an attractive enigma throughout so much of the first book that I was really hoping we'd get to know him better in this one. And while I dreaded the thought of this turning into a horrible love triangle situation that would devastate everyone while dishonoring them as well, I hoped against hope that the author would handle this tricky situation with as much honesty and grace as possible. And boy, did she ever come through. I am a huge fan of Tucker's, but Cynthia Hand somehow does the impossible and shows us how the flicker of friendship between Christian and Clara grows incrementally stronger everyday. By the end of the book, he has shown himself to be a rock-steady, understanding, and fun presence in Clara's life , and it's pretty near impossible not to fall in love with him in a pretty deep and meaningful way as well.
This book made me so very happy in so many ways, and there are unbelievably beautiful angel moments in it, with descriptions of gorgeous feathered wings, flying, and luminous "glory" that are just marvelous. I've always appreciated the wry honesty and warmth with which the relationship between Clara and her mother was written, and here we discover so much more about her as a mother, as an angel, and as a person in a way that is incredibly touching. Clara learns a great deal about her family and about herself in this novel, and her deepening strength and maturity combined with her funny, sensitive narrative only made me love her further. I also enjoyed the distinctly outdoorsy feel of the mountains in this book, the presence of many of the adults, and the nuanced portrayal of the bad guy, as well as the thoughtfully considered mentions of angel lore, religion, and references to Paradise Lost. Oh--and big, big bonus points for a prom scene that didn't make me want to do violence!
But this book also broke my heart in more ways than one. There is an exquisite tenderness to this story that I never could have imagined, and while I think some elements of it may upset some fans, I hope readers will go into it with an open mind and an open heart. I had many theories and opinions and hopes going into it, and I can honestly say that coming out of it, all of that has changed--and I am firmly convinced that it is for the better. I am tremendously moved and inspired by this story, and it's a testament to Cynthia Hand's pitch-perfect writing that we are so gently eased into new realizations and growth in a way that feels so right and so emotionally true.
My heart was aching when I turned the last page. But it was also overflowing with love and deep appreciation for the splendid journey that I didn't even know I wanted to go on. After reading a second fantastic YA book from this author, I have absolute faith in Cynthia Hand, and I am so looking forward to seeing where she will take us next.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
P.S. I am dying to discuss the specifics of what happens in this book in the comments below, so please, tell me what you think of where this story went in spoiler tags! I can't keep this to myself any longer. Please be aware that the spoilers tagged in the comments are REAL, so please don't click if you haven't read the book yet! But the spoilers in the review are all in good fun, and safe to click. ;)
Also, a spoiler for people who were worried about Midas the horse in the last book: