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REVIEW: "The Armored Saint" by Myke Cole


It's been more than two weeks, and I still don't know if I liked The Armored Saint.

Does that mean it's a bad book? No, not at all. In fact, it kept me reading, but about half of that momentum was sustained by frustration. I wanted this book to be more than the sum of its parts, and, in the end, I think most of the problems I had came down to awkward pacing and what came down to the book getting in its own way.

Spoilers! Here's an example, or maybe the example: Heloise, the titular armored saint (kind of--the words of the title don't quite match the respective words in the world of the book), her family and the others in their village, and other nearby villages are all under the thumb of the authoritarian, zealously religious-ish Order. The Order preaches that magicians are envoys of Hell (or the equivalent) and they only get their power from the devils. But Heloise finds out an old, trusted wanderer is a magician, and slowly comes to realize that there's nothing wrong with magic. In fact, the old wanderer offers to teach her some magic. With his help, the village stands up to the Order and Heloise seems poised to begin her journey of discovery (even though we're 2/3 of the way through the book at this point). And then...

A devil pops out of the old wanderer. It kills him, and Heloise's best friend, and Heloise has to fight it off in medieval power armor.

If your response to that pair of sentences is "SWEET," this might be a book for you. If your response is more along the lines of "um...," then we're on the same page. I won't deny that this fight is grand in some of the best traditions of SFF (it reminded me a lot of Ripley vs. the Queen in Aliens), but when it seems like what the book's been trying to argue for Heloise's coming of age is that she shouldn't heedlessly trust authority, it kicks that argument in the ass when it turns out that the Order's been right all along. It's as if, in His Dark Materials, it turned out that the Authority was actually powerful and benevolent, Dust was terrible, and Mrs. Coulter was right to practice intercision all along. Would that have been unexpected? Absolutely. Would it have been a satisfying twist? Hell no!

So, where does that leave The Armored Saint? It has stayed with me, and I've tried to parse out in the days since I finished it if the twist couldn't have been a clever commentary on something I haven't seen yet. I hope it is, and that I can return to the book someday for a more positive experience--but for now, my takeaway is frustration.

reviewTony Colella