Sometimes I mention that a book feels like a collection of short stories, bridged together more or less skillfully by the author. Often, this is because there is a combination of the book feeling like I have been in it forever, and then an end point happens. In this case, that happened enough to get that mental label – The Hand of Raziel feels very much like a couple of shorts compiled into a novel.
Well, not exactly. The common thread of the ‘novel from short story’ sub-subgenre is that the characters are, often, constantly reintroduced, the background reexplained, and the whole thing feels like a money grab from the publisher (see Black Library’s ‘Gotrek & Felix’ ‘novels’ for exactly this). This feels far more like a story composed in fits and starts, without a clear end point, but with a sort of broad mental outline.
In the main, this is the story of Risa Black, an operative for the Martian Liberation Front. She is a cyber-enhanced spy / fighter who receives guidance from an angel, Raziel (an archangel within the teachings of Jewish mysticism who is the “Keeper of Secrets” and the “Angel of Mysteries”). Needless to say, no one else sees / experiences Raziel’s presence. The novel explores the fairly stock ’emotionless killer / highly depressed and broken person who shuts off feelings’ trope for all it is worth. With a lot of the usual stuff you expect from this kind of exploration.
There is a lot of action here – mostly spurred by the revolution. In an interesting take on the idea of ‘freedom from a distant Earth’, this is less about an oppressive government (or a UN-like body) than freedom from dominant mega-corporations. With one being far more obviously evil than the other. There is a limited amount of background there, which is a frustration for me, but it seems that several other novels / series serve as a distant prelude (by maybe 400 years) to this series. Since I haven’t read those, that’s not much help. This lack of background does keep me from being fully ‘into’ the book, as I was often found things a bit murky, especially with the way settings and environments were being described. In many ways, Mars was presented as near-Warhammer 40K levels of oppression and drudgery, but without the social controls keeping people from revolting. Here, the downtrodden masses just accept it. For reasons I can’t claim to understand.
What is even more interesting is that there is a sense that no one knows the MLF is fighting to free Mars, and sometimes no one seems to know who the MLF even is; but they all know Risa. While I have no problem with the idea of a single stand-out figure in a revolution, having that figure be as shadowy an operative as she seems to be intended to be is off, as is the idea that she so vastly overshadows the organization. Again, my take.
The real quandry here, as a reviewer, is that while I think some work was needed before this saw print, it wasn’t bad. Just long, and with a lot of good end-points before it finally ended. Several points I did like were the character development and backstory revelations, the fact that Raziel was not what I first thought, and the final direction everything went. Those make the book worth a read, and worth a look at book two, when it is released.