Sharon Shinn’s “Samaria” series

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[The first 3 novels are also referred to as the Archangel Trilogy.]

This is a science fiction series with a fantasy feel, and with romance.

In the world of Samaria, angels live among ordinary humans (mortals). These are flesh and blood angels, both male and female, essentially a variety of human, but with wings, higher body temperatures, attractive appearance and beautiful singing voices. They fly into the air to sing to their god Jovah, to make requests, such as to adjust the weather, to receive blessings on the harvests, for seeds and for medicines. And, if necessary, to call down lightning bolts for destruction. (The Edori people call the god Yovah instead of Jovah.)

Angels are able to interbreed with mortals. The union of an angel and a mortal may produce either an angel or a mortal. (Angels are forbidden to interbreed with each other: the progeny tends to be monstrous.)

The continent of Samaria is divided into three provinces: Gaza, Bethel and Jordana. In each province, the angels live in an angel hold: Monteverde in Gaza, the Eyrie in Bethel. In Jordan, the original angel hold is Windy Point. This is destroyed at the end of Archangel, and replaced with Cedar Hills. The angel who is the “leader of the host” at an angel hold is the ruler of the province. One of these leaders becomes the Archangel, who is ruler of Samaria.

There is also an oracle’s retreat in each of the three provinces: Mt Sudan in Gaza, Mt Sinai in Bethel and Mt Egypt in Jordana. The oracles communicate with Jovah and let people know the god’s instructions.

We eventually find out, but not until the second book, Jovah’s Angel, that Jovah is actually the spaceship their ancestors arrived in long ago, to the world of Samaria from a planet called Eleison (centuries after humans left Earth). The ship is in orbit around their planet. It is the ship’s intelligent computer that receives and responds to the angels’ requests, and is programmed to act in certain ways.

The angels were created at the time of settlement by genetically modifying humans. The settlers abandoned their advanced technology, and began living a more primitive lifestyle, the exceptions being the music players in the angel holds and the equipment in the oracle retreats for communicating with the ship.

Much of the series can be read as if it is a fantasy world, ignoring the science fiction elements.

Most of the characters’ names in this series come from the Bible (Old and New Testaments, and Apocrypha), or are saints’ names. Some of the place names also come from the Bible. The name Jovah comes from Jehovah, the name of God in the Old Testament. The original settlers belonged to a sect called the Harmonic Christers – presumably an offshoot from Christianity.

I found it a little bit strange to think of God as Jovah is depicted in this series. He has greater tangibility than we normally think of God having; perhaps something like the way God is presented in some stories in the Old Testament. We, the readers, discover that Jovah has a material existence, and is in fact a man-made entity, but most of the people of Samaria do not realise that (until the end of The Alleluia Files, which is the last story in the chronology).

Samaria Timeline

The author makes the following comments on her website:

The book of mine that is the clear favorite among readers is Archangel, so it’s not a bad idea to start with the Samaria series. I always think they should be read in the order in which they were published: Archangel, Jovah’s Angel, The Alleluia Files, Angelica, and Angel-Seeker. I know some people have read them chronologically, which would change the order to: Angelica, Archangel, Angel-Seeker, Jovah’s Angel, The Alleluia Files. If you’re reading chronologically, you could insert the novella “Flight” right before Archangel, the novella “Fallen Angel” right after Angel-Seeker, and the novella “Nocturne” between Angel-Seeker and Jovah’s Angel.

We learn in Archangel that the original settlement of Samaria occurred 500 years previously.

Numbers of years are generally given in round numbers, so shouldn’t be taken as exact.

Archangel (1997)

[500 years after settlement.]

Gabriel has been designated as the next Archangel, the leader of Samaria. He goes to the oracle Josiah, to find out who Jovah has selected for his wife. The Archangel’s wife, the “angelica”, must sing beside him at the Gloria, which is only a few months away.

The Gloria must be performed every year, on the Plain of Sharon, with representatives of all the peoples of Samaria present. The main event is a sacred mass, sung by the Archangel and his or her spouse (angelica or angelico). There are other songs, and it is a day of general celebration. If the Gloria is not performed, Jovah will send down a lightning bolt to destroy Mount Galo. If the Gloria is still not sung within another three days, the god will destroy the Galilee River (near the city of Semorrah), and if still not sung, he will destroy the world.

Josiah gives Gabriel the name of his intended bride: Rachel, who at the time of her birth lived in a small village in Jordana. Her parents were farmers. She is known to still be alive, because her “Kiss” is still active. The Kiss is a small amber crystal implanted in each person’s right arm as a child, when dedicated by a priest. A person’s Kiss sometimes lights up when they meet their soulmate.

But when Gabriel flies to the location of the village, he finds it deserted, having been destroyed years before. The nomadic Edori may know what had happened to the girl. Flying around the various Edori clans, he determines that Rachel had been rescued, and had lived with the Manderra clan for years. But that clan had been attacked by the Jansai slave traders, and all members killed or taken into slavery. So where is she now?

Rachel had been sold as a slave to Jethro, a wealthy merchant in the city of Semorrah, five years before. By chance Gabriel attends a wedding at Jethro’s home. And when both Gabriel’s and Rachel’s Kisses light up, Gabriel realises he has found his bride.

Rachel doesn’t want to marry, and doesn’t have a high opinion of angels. But realising that she hasn’t much choice, and since this will free her from slavery, she agrees. Gabriel takes her to the Eyrie, the angel hold in Bethel, where he is head of the angel host.

But the two of them do not get along very well. They get into arguments. Do they, or don’t they, love each other? Gabriel wonders whether she was the best choice of angelica, whether she is able to sing, and whether she will learn the songs in time.

When Raphael, the current Archangel visits, and sees the conflict between them, he proposes that he continue on as Archangel. But Gabriel realises that Raphael only wants to hang onto power. And that would not be good. Raphael supports slavery, which Gabriel wants to wipe out.

But Raphael is more evil than Gabriel realises. He will do anything to retain power, including attacks against Rachel. He believes that Jovah does not exist, and that therefore Jovah will take no action if the Gloria is not sung. If Raphael manages to prevent the Gloria from being celebrated, will the god send destruction down on them?

Jovah’s Angel (1998)

[650 years after settlement, 150 years after Archangel.]

The Archangel Delilah crashes to the ground when flying in a storm, and breaks her wing. Since she can’t fly, the oracles announce that Jovah has appointed a new Archangel, Alleluia (or Alleya).

Alleya doesn’t seem very well suited for the job. She is more of a studious person than a leader and negotiator. But recently there has been lots of rain and storms, and the god doesn’t respond to the angels when they ask for the rains to be dispersed. Alleya is an exception – the god does seem to hear her. But will he always hear her? And if Jovah cannot hear when they sing the Gloria, will he destroy the world?

Samaria is undergoing an industrial revolution. Caleb and his friend Noah, an Edori, are engineers in the city of Luminaux. Caleb is experimenting with flight, attempting to create artificial wings to enable mortals to fly like angels. Noah has created a motor vehicle, and intends to move on to motorised boats, to enable the Edori to migrate to the legendary continent of Ysral, far across the sea. Noah takes Caleb to a nightclub, where Delilah sings. Delilah was depressed when she could no longer fly, and left the Eyrie to live somewhere else. And since, Delilah and Noah have become lovers. Caleb wonders whether he can use technology to fix Delilah’s wing.

Alleya talks to the oracle Job, to determine whether the rains and storms are because the god is angry with them. Job tells her she must find the son of Jeremiah. This is also the answer to who should become her husband, the angelico, who must sing with her in the Gloria. Alleya knows that Jeremiah was the name of Gabriel’s father, 150 years ago, and tries to work out who his current male descendants are.

The music players in the Eyrie, which play recordings of sacred music, are breaking down. These use technology from the time of settlement, which has since been lost, but the music is needed by angels to learn the masses. Someone recommends to Alleya that Caleb, in Luminaux, may be able to fix the machines. So Alleya visits Caleb, and the two of them become quite friendly. But Alleya is afraid to let their relationship develop too far, as she must marry the man that Jovah has selected for her.

Alleya borrows some books from Mount Sinai, the oracle retreat in Bethel (currently vacant), and studies up the ancient language of the first settlers. This enables her to learn the language used to communicate with Jovah using the screen and keyboard at the retreat. And this leads her to discover the true nature of Jovah, which is quite a shock to her. And it turns out that Jovah needs help from her and Caleb.

The Alleluia Files (1999)

[750 years after settlement, 100 years after Jovah’s Angel. This is the last book in the chronology of the series.]

The story is told from three points of view, Tamar, Jared and Lucinda.

Almost all of the Edori have migrated to the continent of Ysral, across the sea. This allows them to continue their nomadic lifestyle, which had not been possible with the expansion of settlements in the continent of Samaria.

Technology has advanced, and there are now motor vehicles, sound recordings, and primitive forms of electronic communication. But technological advancement is discouraged in Samaria by Bael, the Archangel, although it is unrestricted in Ysral.

Angel Rock is an island half-way across the sea from Samaria to Ysral. A small community lives there. Since angels can’t fly all the way across the sea to Ysral, this island was established as a stopping point. But now, with all the ships sailing across the sea, angels often land on ships to break their journey.

Lucinda is an angel who lives on Angel Rock. She was taken there as a child by her Aunt Gretchen. She comes to Samaria when she is invited to sing at the Gloria.

A radical group called the Jacobites has arisen, who believe that Jovah is not a god, but a spaceship in orbit. They are trying to find the Alleluia files, which are thought will provide proof. Alleluia had been the Archangel briefly (in Jovah’s Angel) before becoming an oracle at Mount Sinai. It is thought that Alleluia had discovered Jovah’s nature, and left some record of that discovery.

The Archangel Bael is opposed to the Jacobites. He had had the original leaders executed. He now uses the warlike Jansai as a force of soldiers, to arrest or kill the Jacobites. This includes piracy on the sea by the Jansai against ships which could potentially hold Jacobites, although this also provides them with an excuse to attack their traditional enemies, the Edori.

Tamar is a Jacobite, and is therefore in constant danger from the Jansai. She spends a lot of time either trying to meet other Jacobites, or taking casual jobs where her identity will be concealed. Like most Jacobites, she did not have a Kiss implanted at birth, but she gets one from a former priest, to disguise her identity as a Jacobite.

Jared is an angel, the leader of the host at Monteverde. People have suggested that he might be a good candidate for the next Archangel. But Jared doesn’t think so; he doesn’t even take his current leadership position very seriously. He keeps in touch with his friend Christian Avalone, a wealthy merchant in Semorrah, who wants to encourage the development of more technology. Christian is also sympathetic with the Jacobites, and points out to Jared that Bael is persecuting them. He gives Jared the location, Ileah, where the Jacobites will be gathering.

Jovah has not given the name of the next Archangel, and Bael has another year to go. But Bael wants to cling onto power, so wants the next Archangel to be someone he can control. He sounds out Jared to determine whether Jared’s principles are compatible with his. The other option he is considering is that his mortal son, Omar, will marry Lucinda, who might then become the Archangel. (And realising this, Lucinda’s aunt quickly takes her back to Angel Rock.)

Tamar arrives at Ileah, and discovers that the Jansai have already killed all except one of the Jacobites who have gathered. She buries the dead, and cares for the survivor, Peter, who had been injured. Jared arrives and meets her. Tamar doesn’t trust angels, but they work together to care for Peter, and Jared takes him to a doctor. But when he returns, Tamar has disappeared.

Jared had been shocked to discover that the Jansai are actually killing Jacobites, apparently on Bael’s instructions. When he meets Bael, Bael tells him he intends to wipe all the Jacobites off the face of the planet.

Jared keeps meeting Tamar in other places. And he notices that his Kiss lights up every time he meets her, and realises he is attracted to her. He eventually finds her being assaulted by the Jansai, and takes her to Ysral, to the Jacobite community there. Lucinda and her Edori lover, Reuben, have also arrived there.

The Jacobites have another idea where the Alleluia files may be, so a group of them, including Tamar and Jared, head back to Samaria, into danger, to try and locate them.

Angelica (2003)

[240 years after settlement, ie 260 years before Archangel.]

Gaaron (short for Gabriel Aaron) is leader of the host at the Eyrie, and has been selected to be the next Archangel. To his surprise, the oracle tells him that the wife Jovah has chosen for him is an Edori woman, Susannah. (As wife of the Archangel, she will be called the angelica.)

Susannah belongs to the Lohora clan of the Edori. When Gaaron comes to visit, she is in the process of breaking up with her lover, Dathan. So she accepts what Gaaron tells her is the will of the god, and goes with him to the Eyrie.

But Susannah has problems adjusting to life in the angel hold. She misses her Edori life, with people constantly crowding round, especially the family group huddled together, when sleeping in the same tent.

And her relationship with Gaaron is strained. Gaaron is always busy with the business of the hold and the province, and doesn’t easily show his feelings. Susannah starts to fall in love with him, but is not sure whether her feelings are reciprocated.

Miriam, Gaaron’s mortal sister, is constantly getting into trouble. After the latest difficulty, Gaaron agrees to Susannah’s suggestion: that Miriam be taken to the city of Luminaux, to live and work in a bakery, run by a friend of Susannah’s. But instead, Miriam runs away and joins the Lohora clan, wandering around according to their nomadic lifestyle.

The people of Samaria are being attacked by enemies: dark-skinned men not previously known – possibly from another world. They use weapons (fire-sticks) which can instantly burn up a settlement. They can also disappear – instantly transporting themselves away. These attacks cause panic amongst the Samarians; they flock to the cities where they are possibly safer.

Miriam foils an attack against the Lohoras. The enemies disappear, except for a young man who is injured. The Lohoras, and especially Miriam, care for him during his recovery, and afterwards she learns something of his origins.

Gaaron is involved in debate, with other leaders of Samaria, about how to retaliate against the enemies, and whether Samarians should develop weapons. Their ancestors had left their previous home world, where violence was destroying the planet, resolved not to develop the same kind of destructive weapons. But the Samarians do have hunting weapons (notably crossbows), and can throw rocks. And Gaaron does something he has never done before, calling on Jovah to send down thunderbolts on the attackers.

Susannah has been having dreams of being in a strange place – a room of metal and glass, and with screens and keyboards like the one in the oracle’s retreat: dreams she believes may be sent by Jovah. Maybe the god has a special role for her, in helping defeat their enemies.

Angel-Seeker (2004)

[One and a half years after Archangel, about 502 years after settlement. Follows Archangel, and before Fallen Angel (according to author’s website).]

At the end of Archangel:

  • Mount Galo is destroyed by a thunderbolt from Jovah, killing the previous Archangel Raphael and his supporters
  • Gabriel takes the position of Archangel
  • The angel hold at Windy Point is destroyed
  • The angels Nathan and Magdalena are given permission to marry. The fact that their Kisses light up in each other’s presence is taken as Jovah’s dispensation, overriding the prohibition of angels interbreeding
  • Nathan (accompanied by Magdalena) is assigned the task of building and leading the new angel hold for Jordana at Cedar Hills.

A young woman called Elizabeth travels to Cedar Hills and becomes an angel-seeker. An angel-seeker is a mortal woman who seeks to sleep with male angels, hoping to give birth to an angel child, and thus gain in social status and live in the angel hold. Elizabeth gets a job as laundress in the angel hold. She starts a relationship with the angel David, but the relationship is not very satisfactory, consisting of sex but not love. And she doesn’t become pregnant.

The Jansai are not particularly pleasant people. They do not like angels – the exception previously being Raphael, who had supported them. Gabriel had freed all the Edori slaves, which robbed the Jansai of a source of income, and they are now making a series of trade demands to Gabriel.

The Jansai often travel around in horse-drawn wagons as part of their trader lifestyle, but always return to their homes in the city of Breven.

The angel Obadiah (a lesser character in Archangel) is sent by Gabriel to negotiate with Uriah, one of the chief Jansai merchants. This requires Obadiah to relocate from the Eyrie to the new angel hold at Cedar Hills, to allow shorter travelling times to Breven.

It is when Obadiah is flying back to Cedar Hills from Breven that someone fires a weapon at him, burning a hole in his wing, and also burning his leg. He loses control and falls from the sky, landing near an oasis. [We eventually learn that the weapon was a fire stick, one of several which had been possessed by Raphael. Where they came from is described in Angelica.]

Rebekah is a young Jansai woman – unmarried, but whose marriage is soon to be arranged. Jansai women are confined within their homes, and must not be seen by men other than their male relatives. On the rare occasions when they go outside, they are veiled and escorted by a male relative.

Sometimes they travel in the wagons as part of the family group, in which case they are confined within the tented wagons if there are unrelated males present. When necessary, and unseen by unrelated males, they go out to gather food or other necessities from the desert areas where they travel.

It is on one of these trips that Rebekah is sent to the oasis to bring water back to the camp. And she finds the injured Obadiah lying there. She talks to him, tends to his injuries, and provides him food, water and shelter, keeping all this secret from her family. But soon she must move on with her family.

Obadiah flies back to the Cedar Hills but, still being weak, has another fall on the way, but is rescued and returned to the angel hold. His injuries are attended to by the healer, Mary, assisted by Elizabeth.

Impressed by Elizabeth’s skill, Mary invites her to work as her assistant. Elizabeth meets an Edori man called Rufus, who is working as a builder. Rufus is one of the freed slaves, but is afraid to return to the nomadic Edori lifestyle because he has been away so long. Elizabeth’s relationship with Rufus looks to be promising.

Obadiah returns to Breven and attends the harvest festival. Rebekah, disguised as a boy, sneaks out of the house and goes to the festival. She manages to meet Obadiah. The next night she meets him at his hotel, and they make love. She arranges to meet him there whenever he comes to Breven. However this is dangerous. She must go at night, making sure that no one sees her leaving the house or returning, and that no one notices that she is gone.

But eventually Rebekah discovers she is pregnant. She must escape, and leave with Obadiah. Otherwise, if her condition is discovered, she will be taken out into the desert, stoned and left there to die.

Fallen Angel (novella) in To Weave a Web of Magic (anthology) (2004)

[Set about 18 years after Archangel (according to author’s website). (518 years after settlement.) This presumably relates to the time the story is narrated, when Eden is 18. The main events in the story occur over 4 years, from Eden’s age of 14 to 18. This is during the latter half of Gabriel’s reign.]

Eden belongs to the Karsh family of the Manadavvi people, the wealthy owners of property in the province of Gaza. She is very much involved in the social life of high society.

Her father, Joseph Karsh, is an unscrupulous businessman, with a fiery temper. He hates angels, and is especially critical of the reforms that Gabriel brought in, as it increased his taxes.

At one of her social events, Eden hears about a young male angel called Jesse, a rebel who is always getting into trouble.

She eventually meets Jesse when she attends a wedding. A group of angels and mortals, including Eden and Jesse, leave the party and fly to the nearby coast (the angels carrying the mortals), to have a picnic and watch the crashing waves. Eden finds herself attracted to Jesse. Later, Jesse takes her out over the sea, while he calls down thunderbolts from Jovah: it is quite a light show. She would meet him a few more times over the years that follow.

But at a later date, Gabriel and other angels descend on the Karsh manor. Joseph has broken the tax laws. An angel must be present to supervise all his financial dealings. First this is an angel called Diana, who is later replaced by Adam.

Soon Eden’s mother becomes pregnant. But to their shock, the baby that is born is an angel. Adam must be the father. The family are in disgrace. To remove them from Joseph’s wrath, the angels take the mother and baby away to the angel hold at Monteverde. Eden is left to run the household. But when Joseph takes out his anger on Eden, she too flees to Monteverde.

But eventually Joseph comes to Monteverde to take Eden back. But while he is there, an angel kills Joseph. Jesse is convicted of the murder, and exiled, by chaining him to a rock in the mountains.

But Eden is in love with Jesse, and intends to do what she can to free him.

Flight (novella) in collection Quatrain (2009)

Set a few years before Archangel. Raphael is still the Archangel.

Salome had formerly been an angel-seeker, having relationships with various angels. But for some years now, she has been working on a farm in Jordana. Her niece Sheba lives with her.

Raphael and two other angels come to the farm, to sing a weather request to Jovah. All the young women of the farm have romantic feelings towards them.

But Salome’s experiences with angels have left her with bad feelings about them, especially Raphael, of whom she has unpleasant memories. And she doesn’t want Sheba to have anything to do with the angels.

After this, there is a festival in the nearby country town of Laban. A group from the farm, including Salome and Sheba, travel there and stay at an inn.

There are angels singing at the festival. One of these is Stephen, with whom Salome had previously been in a relationship. Salome and Stephen meet again, and discover that they are both very much in love with each other. They plan that Salome will go to live with Stephen at Monteverde angel hold. Stephen first has to report to Ariel, the leader of the host at Monteverde, but he would return for her.

But later at the inn, Salome discovers that Sheba has gone; she has run away with Raphael to Windy Point angel hold.

Salome resolves to get her back. But there will be difficulties. A mortal can only get to and from Windy Point, which is high on a mountain, by being carried by an angel. And even if Sheba wants to leave, Raphael will not willingly let her go.

Nocturne (novella) in anthology Angels of Darkness (2011).

[Set about 70 years after Archangel (according to author’s website). (570 years after settlement.)]

Moriah is a cook at one of the “Gabriel Schools” – schools set up for abandoned street children. This school is at the edge of the desert, next to the Caitana Mountains, far away from other settlements. Being the last employed, she has been given the shift, on her own, from midnight to dawn. And having lots of time on her hands, she spends some time exploring the school.

The one building that everyone has been forbidden from visiting is the Great House, where the headmistress lives with a housekeeper and a footman.

Then one night Moriah sees a figure on the roof of the Great House, and a sound of weeping. Continuing to watch on successive nights, she discovers that the figure is of an angel, and the angel is blind.

When the headmistress goes away of a trip with her footman, Moriah visits the house. She finds the housekeeper, Alma, has been injured and needs help. Alma is reluctant to let Moriah in, and to admit there is an angel in the house, but she is desperate, so accepts Moriah’s help.

Moriah meets the angel, a man called Corban, who tells her he was blinded in an accident when one of his students called down lightning; the student himself was killed. Corban feels guilty about what happened, as well as feeling sorry for himself. And because he can’t see, he can’t fly.

Moriah has a somewhat abrasive nature, and doesn’t show him much pity. And she encourages him to fly around the Great House, by listening for sounds, particularly the sound of her voice, calling and singing to him from the roof.

And so it happens. Corban gets into some trouble when he flies too far from the house, and doesn’t recognise the sounds around him. And after that, he flies with Moriah in his arms, with her giving him directions. And gradually a romance develops.

Links

Sharon Shinn’s website www.sharonshinn.net

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