Archangel is a collection of five stories that span between the years 1873 and 1920 and are loosely interconnected in that characters from one story return in another. What is fascinating about these stories is Barrett’s emphasis upon scientific discoveries during the period of the piece. For example, the first story “The Investigators” takes us back to the exciting beginnings of aviation and “The Island” takes us to the crossroads in science when evolution was picking up steam as the generally agreed upon theory of man’s origins. The theory of relativity, x-ray technology, and cave-dwelling fish all appear in this collection.
Barrett’s characters, including female, are strong presences and it is easy to move within their world, no matter how different from our own time and space. There’s always an interesting back story or two or plot twist or relationship development within all that only further engage the reader in these stories built upon interesting premises.
Because we get so caught up in the characters in Barrett’s stories though, I was significantly disappointed to get to the final story “Archangel” and realize that I wasn’t going to get enough of the character Constantine Boyd as I had hoped for. And Boyd’s final actions in the story are somewhat of a black hole, in my opinion, where the reader gets drawn in and cannot find a satisfying way out. I would’ve rather seen a Northern Lights sort of ending, as the delightful story warrants. Having said this, it was the only story I felt this way about; which, may be a testimony to Barrett’s ability to connect me with her characters in the first place. If I hadn’t gotten so involved with Boyd, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend more time with him (rather than the female narrator of the story he re-appears in). Not that I didn’t care for the female x-ray technician attending to the soldiers of the Polar Bear Expedition.
There were also times when the prose tripped me up and felt as if the writing had been rushed: Sentences that I had to re-read because of their grammatical construction to get at the author’s intent.
If you enjoy historical fiction and one that teaches not only history but the science of the time, you will enjoy the stories in “Archangel.”
To read more about Andrea Barrett and her work, check out her website: