Reviewed by Tucker Lieberman
Supernatural guardians and enormous demons combat with force and wit over the fate of innocent humans
Atonement, the first book in JL Rothstein’s Heaven Sent series, centers on nine supernatural siblings who battle unruly demons. The O’Maras have been doing this for a long time. Two hundred years ago, their appearances were frozen at the age of approximately thirty. Like the demons who antagonize Earth, the O’Maras are basically immortal and extremely difficult to kill.
One of the siblings—Genevieve, or “Gen”—is especially focused on defeating a demon named Schlosser. She also hopes to find and reunite with her husband who has been missing for forty years.
Schlosser is a Roamer Demon who targets humans, luring them to suicide. As Guardians, the O’Maras want to protect these humans, and they will directly battle demons like Schlosser when necessary. Under the terms of an agreement between Heaven and Hell, Guardians may interfere with a spell that a demon casts on a human, but they may lethally strike the demon only in their own self-defense. Heaven obeys this violence-reduction principle, while Hell ignores the agreement.
No side in this cosmic battle is fully aware of their larger purpose. Roamer Demons like Schlosser, made of “worn and remolded flesh,” are physically decaying at their core and are purposelessly destructive; Guardians feel drawn to protect particular humans without understanding why; the humans at the center of the conflict are oblivious to the drama.
Atonement has superb sensory details. Readers can imagine themselves with their feet planted firmly in this haunting world. When one of the O’Mara sisters encounters a dust-colored demon who is “eight feet tall, skinny, with long braided hair that swung across her back” and whose eyes have a “luminescent green glow…like a flashlight in a storm,” she fights it with what just might be the best possible weapon: a trident. Their superpowers have to be up to the task, so there is mind-reading, stopping of time, and teleportation. One sister, “still wearing a bathrobe and giant pink slippers,” teleports to steal a book from the Vatican Library! This world is also richly atmospheric, with echoes of “water gently lapping in the ornate stone birdbath up ahead” and creature comforts like apple cinnamon muffins and fashionable shoes when the O’Maras aren’t actively annihilating odorous demons.
All the supernatural beings have physical realities. The Guardians eat pizza, and they fight the demons with knives and fire. It’s implied that ordinary people can see them, because, to account for their presence in Boston, they pretend to serve the Catholic Church as researchers of paranormal occurrences. However, when they are defending someone from a real demonic attack, the human may be unable to directly observe either the Guardian or the attacking demon, who appear to that person only as impulses or thoughts.
One challenge for the reader is identifying and distinguishing all the characters. From the beginning, we know there are nine O’Mara siblings, but we are never systematically introduced to them. By process of elimination, they aren’t Harry (he’s an Angel who supports the family), Jared (romantically linked to Kelly), Dmitri (Deb’s love interest), nor the long-absent Gabriel (Gen’s husband). When all O’Mara siblings gather for a bacon breakfast, the reader finally has an opportunity to track who’s in the kitchen: the sisters Gen, Kelly, and Deb, and the brothers Dan, Tom, Michael, Xavier, Frankie, and Greg. This breakfast doesn’t happen until a third of the way through the book, though, by which point we’ve already met all these characters without having had solid clues about which men are brothers. The reader also has to distinguish all these supernatural beings (despite their deceptively mundane given names) from their various human
charges. The brothers, at least, may not be so important, as the series intends to focus on the three sisters anyway.
Heaven Sent promises to be an action-packed series. For those who love a true battle between Good and Evil with suspense and occasional gore, Atonement is a fantasy you should step right into.
Genre: Fantasy / Suspense
Print Length: 391 pages
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