Messiah 2: The Page of Wands by Reno MacLeod and Jaye Valentine
In the year 2039, the world is a better place thanks to one man. Humans have all they could wish for, and supernaturals have moved in to peacefully co-exist. Famine, disease, and environmental issues are all but a thing of the past. Earth is practically a new Garden of Eden.
A shame it isn’t going to stay that way. In the sequel to Messiah 1: The Three of Cups, Malcolm Wilder, creator of the HydroGo fuel cell and the world’s new messiah, has begun to feel the weight of the sins that surround him. Levi and Suki do their best to help Malcolm keep the world — and their anointed prince — from falling into shambles. Unfortunately, the jealous tension between the two demons is mounting, and the others have taken notice. Just when things seem their darkest, an unlikely visitor brings the world an unexpected message of hope.
[This particular cover is not as bad as some in the Arcana line but it looks like a second grade drawing project with crayons. In the span of bad covers, this rockets close to the top.]
I admit I approached this story with a bit of trepidation. I had several problems with the first book, more than I could actually discuss in a review without giving away spoilers, so I was concerned I’d simply hate the sequel. I’m glad I liked the second offering, more than the first by a large margin. While previous problems weren’t necessarily resolved and other issues were created, on the whole this was a somewhat fun, irreverent, and compelling story. As it is a sequel, there is no question you must read the first to understand the second; don’t even try it otherwise.
Back in the world of 2039 though, happiness and prosperity reign as Malcolm has eliminated just about any potential hardship or problems. Warring countries now get along, disease is eradicated, and everyone loves their neighbor. Malcolm is having his own qualms as he struggles with opposing demons and his newly appointed position in the hierarchy of heaven and hell. If this is slightly over the top to you, it rather is and it’s not the only element that is exaggerated. Part of this is definitely on purpose and the authors know they’re being facetious and part is meant to work with the power and prestige of the main character. This theme walks a very tight rope where if the setting wasn’t futuristic, the exaggeration would overwhelm and annoy. As it is, there is a suspension of disbelief to accept the new world building but even then the problem free world, mind blowing sex that blows out windows, and unending powers of Malcolm get a little old.
Unfortunately this series is a difficult one to review given the inherent spoilers. It’s very difficult to talk about specific elements without giving too much away from either book. Instead, I can only give broad generalizations and impressions rather than talking about specifics that worked or didn’t work. One example is the character of Malcolm. I had some major problems with his characterization in the first book and his motivations felt weak, unsupported, and too easy. Some of that is continued within this offering but to a much lesser degree. Malcolm shows more strength, resolve, and intelligence that go a long way to supporting him in the prominent role within the story. His love for Suki still feels unfounded given the non-existent basis of their relationship but is tempered by Malcolm’s interactions with a large cast of fascinating characters. Additionally Malcolm shows a strong core of integrity that is crucial to his character and actions, ultimately creating a likeable and interesting man with just enough flaws to offset the power and perfection.
There are several scenes between Malcolm, Suki, and Leviathan which foreshadow and establish an interesting relationship but here the confines of the shorter story work against the characters. This relationship is barely established and there needs to be more depth and reasoning as Malcolm’s attitude towards Levi changes entirely from the first book to the second without enough explanation. The change in direction is easy to understand and follow but the emotion and connection would benefit from more development and attention. But this is also hampered by the incredible amount of action and themes the authors threw into a total of 60 pages. There is almost too much going on so your focus bounces from scene to scene and person to person. One minute there is sex, then more powers and assassins, and plots to take over the world, more sex and so on. However, skillful handling of the material keeps the story from overwhelming but it is a packed novella.
The same cast from book one returns with scene-stealing vibrancy from Leviathan and Lucifer to Odessa with even a few new holy characters rounding out the imaginative group. Malcolm’s struggles between each one of these are interesting but take a back seat to the characters themselves. The scene with Odessa shows there simply are no taboo’s that will not be crossed and yes, dear reader, they certainly went there. Lucifer’s portrayal is against the inherent beliefs of even agnostics but is fascinating and well crafted in such a way as to draw the reader in to the new personality given to the age old demon. Even the scene at the Vatican was intense yet the inherent humor woven throughout the book kept this as an enjoyable farce of the subject matter on many levels. Especially evident with the epilogue, which was delightful and allows the reader to laugh at both the themes presented and the material.
The writing, plot, and various themes were not meant to be a corny look at religion however, but instead an intense and compelling take on the hell side of the debate. The result is a fascinating and well crafted story looking at the world and its inhabitants from the Devil and his minions’ point of view, and one you wouldn’t immediately anticipate. While not a parody, there is humor in the situation from the outrageous descriptions to the actions themselves (did they just do that?! Yes they did) and the set up for even more sequels.
Getting it on record – God and Luci, total lovers spat. Just sayin’.
If you haven’t read this series, start with the first one but hang in there for the second. It gets better. The third promises to be even more interesting and humorous, so I’ll wait eagerly for that. My problems with Malcolm are likely never to be resolved entirely but the truly fascinating cast more than keep my attention. Inventive, creative, and even a bit shocking to a non-believer such as me, you won’t want this story to end.
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