Book Conversation (with Memory Scarlett): The Angel’s Cut

Posted September 2, 2014 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Not-A-Review / 0 Comments

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As my good friend Memory said a few months ago: so many wonderful things begin on Twitter. Like reading a book together and then discussing it. Sometimes they continue on Twitter, but this conversation about the sequel to The Vintner’s Luck wouldn’t quite fit there. (It’s over the character limit. Just a tad. A smidge.) After a nice brief break and then life intervention on both our parts, Memory and I finally managed to align our reading schedules enough to do a buddy read of The Angel’s Cut and so we present to you today, the ensuing discussion. Wherein there is much squeeing and pondering of things. And cats. There are also cats.

The Angel's Cut by Elizabeth KnoxThis is part 2 of our conversation, as a note. Part 1 can be found on Memory’s blog here. (If you’d like to see our conversation about The Vintner’s Luck first, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here.)

For those of you who’d like a summary, it is provided below, courtesy of the back cover:

Hollywood, 1929. While Conrad Cole is working late on elaborate plans for his aeroplanes and his films, a mysterious stranger appears at his door. Xas soon finds himself caught up in the glamorous and treacherous world of movie-making and entangled with both Cole and a young woman who owes her life to the eccentric director. Both of them are drawn to Xas without knowing his secret – that under his shirt he hides the remnants of great snowy wings that set him apart from humankind, and that he is destined to wander the earth forever, always hearing the beating of feathers behind him, threatening him that his dark brother has found him again.

The Angel’s Cut will actually stand alone fairly well, so if it sounds like your kind of book, don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a sequel to another book. It will help if you’ve read The Vintner’s Luck because some things will make more immediate sense, but it’s not necessary. I’ll let Memory introduce herself again too:

Hello, Lynn’s readers! I’m Memory, a writer, reader, and watcher of trashy television (and/or movies where lots of stuff blows up). Lynn was one of the first people I met when I jumped into the blogosphere in late 2008, and she’s introduced me to a fair few wonderful books over the years–including THE VINTNER’S LUCK.

And I think that’s it. So with very little further ado… Let’s move on!

!!! REMEMBER! THIS IS PART 2. YOU CAN READ PART 1 HERE. !!!

!!!! HERE BE SPOILERS! THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING! !!!!

Lynn: I’m not sure at which point this happened, but at one point I was put quite strongly in mind of The Vintner’s Luck. It’s a very different dynamic, but some of the core elements are still the same. Xas still has a man for his main lover, the woman is still disabled, though unlike Aurora it happened before Xas knows Flora. It even has hints of madness and mental health issues about it that don’t mirror Celeste’s, I don’t think, except possibly Cole’s murderous tendencies towards Weber and Xas. It’s… I don’t know, but it felt like it was, in some ways, much the same story playing out, but with different details and a different focus. It gives the story of The Vintner’s Luck a very different feel of ending to me because of the way it all interplays. It’s… Kind of like, for me, the ghosts of Aurora and Sobran got the ending they’d always wanted (only not). Does that make sense? I suppose that doesn’t really make sense, and it certainly doesn’t seem to mesh with what Knox is saying about the nature of Heaven, Hell, souls or the like.

Memory: I totally get the parallels between this set of characters and the ones we knew in The Vintner’s Luck, but I’m not sure I follow you on the Sobran and Aurora thing.

Lynn: *tries to recall where she was going with that* I’m sorry, I’ve got nothing because the stories just aren’t fresh enough in my mind anymore. I do recall feeling that there were bits that reminded me of the relationship between Sobran and Aurora and that, in this freer age, the romantic aspect had more chance of being realised. Except that Flora and Cole are not Aurora and Sobran and, therefore, it is not the same at all. I just felt their stories had parallels.

Anyway, I do really appreciate her take on Christianity still, but I suspect it’s largely down to the way she can have three very different opinions give a good argument for their views. It’s very beautiful.

Memory: So true. It’s not, “Here’s the way religion works.” It’s, “Here are different approaches to and interpretations of religion.” I much prefer this sort of religious fiction to the kind that claims to provide concrete answers.

Lynn: Yes, exactly. It’s a really powerful look at the interaction between individual beliefs and religious dogma.

And O’Brien… Awwwww. I was certain he was going to go all the way with Flora and make something symbolic out of himself just to be contrary. I loved the scene where Xas goes out to find him and prays to God to let him find the cat and he does only… the cat came back of its own accord. I thought that was a pretty powerful moment and a beautiful one to illustrate how different people can view things. Even though the only character present is Xas and even though he has pretty… strong opinions about religion in his own way.

Memory: Love O’Brien coming back.

Lynn: TEAM O’BRIEN. (Can that be a thing?) Love that bit too. It ties nicely with what we were saying about religion too, I think? Since it is a deeply spiritual moment, of a sorts, and the way you read what happens has a really strong hand in how you react to the scene and interpret it on an emotional level.

Memory: Team O’Brien is totally a thing. And yes to all the spirituality stuff.

Lynn: WHOOT! TEAM O’BRIEN FTW! I will admit that I never did end up warming to the story the way I’d wanted to. It’s not so much that I had high expectations from The Vintner’s Luck (though I did), but that I was still perfectly content to have the story end with the end of that book. But, at the same time, this is very much a book about change and changes, being resistant to change and how we come to deal with them. It’s also about Xas changing, and I wonder if that, perhaps, is part of what the treaty meant when it said that Xas goes freely.

Memory: Good point. He’s not static, since he’s not locked into a system where he views earth through either a heavenly lens or the materials available to Hell. He’s able to be a different sort of person as external factors act upon him, even as he remains fundamentally himself. And hey, that’s what all the best fiction is about.

Lynn: Which in a round-about-way reminds me of the Xas being a backwards-copy-of-Jesus thing. And I know that you’ve been itching to talk to me about Lucifer, so I shall not say a word about him until you’ve reread it and gotten the chance to squee. I don’t intend to be mean (though I know I am), but I want to hear your thoughts without much more interference from me first! I’m reading it first, so I feel like I’m hogging all the conversation by rambling all over the place about all the things. T_T

Memory: Now that I’ve revisited him, I almost think I don’t want to talk about Lucifer. (Though I probably do. I just… I don’t know.) Most of my thoughts about Lucifer are like a maelstrom inside my head, and I want to let them out and watch them swirl around a bit, but we do not yet possess the necessary technology.

Lynn: *offers a hug* That sounds like almost all of my thoughts, ever. I understand. <3

Memory: It fascinates me that even though Xas is the one at the centre of the story, Lucifer is the one who’s assembled it. It truly is the angel’s cut of a particular time in Xas’s life. It’s Lucifer trying to make sense of Xas making sense of things.

Lynn: Ha! Yes! I hadn’t thought of the title in that way, I think, but absolutely spot on. It’s a fascinating layering. It’d be the kind of layer I’d reread for if I were more inclined to reread things, actually. <3

Memory: I figure the title is also a reference to Xas having had his wings cut off, and to the angel’s cut (or share) being the portion of wine that always evaporates during the aging process. Xas gets the little bits of peoples’ lives that might otherwise drift off into the aether.

Lynn: On the first, definitely. I didn’t know about the second, though! That’s a neat way to tie the title to the previous book and this one! (I love multi-interpretation titles like this one.)

Memory: the title brings me so much joy.

Lynn: Yeeeeeeees. Much love for the title. <3

Memory: Also, I love the scenes between Xas and Lucifer. Xas exhibits a certain amount of restraint with everyone else. He’s interested, but he’s not always fully committed and he’s rarely overtly passionate. With Lucifer, though, he’s visibly furious. He runs from him, he screams at him, he fights him. A lot of that is down to Lucifer being one of the few beings who can truly hurt him, of course, and to Lucifer being the one who inflicted the worst pain of all on him when he removed Xas’s wings.

Lynn: Yes. I think it’s also partially that Lucifer is one of the few beings who can really understand him, though. That’s part of what keeps Xas so different from the humans in the book for me. He has a much greater (if still fallible) understanding of the world and Lucifer’s is bigger yet, but Lucifer’s relationship to Xas isn’t the same as Xas’ relationship to humans. At least I recall it being different in that Lucifer is interested in Xas.

That’s also one of the things that makes Xas so intriguing to read about for me. It’s relatively rare for us to see him be so emotional. Is the times with Lucifer when he seems most human? If so what does that say about humanity?

Memory: It all takes on new significance, too, when we realize Lucifer can no longer move around as easily as he once did. Enormous six-winged beings don’t half stand out. Even though he hurt Xas terribly, even though he stole unassisted flight from him, he made it possible for Xas to have something resembling a proper life in the human world. It’s impossible for Lucifer to even observe people anymore, save at a great distance. I get shivers just thinking of the bit where Xas offers to cut off his wings.

Lynn: If I recall from The Vintner’s Luck then didn’t Lucifer save Xas’ life by cutting off his wings? It stands to call a lot of thinky thoughts about amputations and living life afterwards. I’m not sure I’d thought about Lucifer giving Xas a chance at a proper life, but then I was more focused on the ways in which Xas has to deal with his loss and just have a life at all. It asks questions about the ethics of amputation when the victim in need of it is in no way able to assert whether they consent to it.

Memory: Well, Lucifer demands that Xas guess at his motivations in cutting off the wings often enough that I don’t think the amputation was necessary. Otherwise, it would be easy enough for Xas to answer, “You cut them off to save my life,” or maybe for Lucifer to taunt him with it. I see it not only as something that was done to Xas without his consent but also as something that was done quite specifically to be cruel.

Lynn: But I liked this Lucifer… Sort of. (Yeah, I don’t have very well-developed supernatural self-preservation instincts, no.) I don’t think Lucifer doing it specifically to be cruel would rule out it not being necessary, though. Xas is visibly hurt and angry and clearly does not want to think about it. Even if it seems easy to say “You did it to save my life”, forcing Xas to a point where he’d face that and admit it and deal with it… That’s just as cruel, perhaps more so.

Memory: I feel like there’s a scene where he does tell Xas why he did it, straight out, but I’ve been rereading bits of the book for the last twenty minutes and I can’t seem to find it. Maybe it doesn’t exist.

Lynn: I feel like there’s a scene like that too, though. I can’t find it either, but I do feel like it was explicitly mentioned at some point.

Memory: Rereading bits as I tried to find that scene did renew my love for the book and make me awfully eager for The Angel’s Reserve, whensoever it should appear. Chills: I haz them.

Lynn: We should totally read it together too whensoever we get a chance! (Yes, I know. I didn’t love either book the way I’d like to so far, but I did enjoy the books and bantering with you about them like this has been amazingly good fun.)

Memory: yes! Buddy reads are totally fun! We must have more of them, for these books or for others.

Lynn: I am wholeheartedly in favour of this suggestion! We should compare TBR piles/wishlists sometime and see if we have anything we both really want to read.

Memory: It’s a plan!

Oh! And I love the scene where Lucifer makes the deal with God to get his hands on every film copied more than ten times, and Xas just lets him go ahead and make that mistake knowing full well Hell will be inundated with home videos.

Lynn: He’s got a nasty streak in him, does the Xas. Although to be fair that also means Hell has a lot more material on humanity and emotions to study than it would otherwise have. Xas would undoubtedly have known that too, so perhaps there’s more to it than letting Lucifer make a mistake.

Memory: OMG I JUST REALIZED HELL HAS ALL OF YOUTUBE. Now I’m imagining the fallen angels watching cat videos and Destiel fanvids.

Lynn: *snrk*

Memory: Anyways, Lucifer’s final scene reminds me: what do you think of the spells (or spell-type things) we see Lucifer and Xas cast, where they tell the world to work a certain way and it listens to them?

Lynn: In general? I like, ah, magic like that. Nice and ambiguous. Used well (like Knox can) it makes for a very powerful story that doesn’t really try to push one interpretation or the other on you. Dwelling about them too long creeps me out, though. Think of what you could do with power like that?

Memory: And how carefully it has to be handled. Neither Xas nor Lucifer just comes out with that sort of thing; they think it over beforehand, which tells me it’s all too easy to mess it up. Even if you’re an angel.

Lynn: I loved the set-up too, with the film reels and the intermissions. I liked how that’s completely different from The Vintner’s Luck and yet utterly unchanged. It reflects how the characters see the world. And I have some more thoughts, but if they don’t match up with yours I shall try to bring them up again later. For now I just wanted to ramble and squee to the best of my abilities (see: headache; it is, like, 33 degrees here when yesterday it was, like, 20 and I also got some new BPAL imps and the mingled scents are all still dissipating and… I can’t handle scents when they’re all mixed together, so it’s double the headache. ><)

But, yes, I wanted to ramble and squee. I didn’t love this (but then I admit I didn’t expect to fall head over heels), but I did very much enjoy it.

Memory: I’m glad! Like I said, I felt like I’d forced you to interact with something you would’ve rather avoided.

Lynn: Awwww, please don’t feel that way! It was my choice and I made it because I wanted to do this. I’d just… wanted to have similar feels to yours about it too and that didn’t happen. I’m sorry I made you feel bad.

Memory: We shall forgive each other and move on.

Lynn: DEAL! I do think I would’ve preferred to read the books out of order so that this would’ve been stronger for me instead of having numerous whinges about how it’s not The Vintner’s Luck and feeling unable to really gauge its true effectiveness and quality because my brain insists that, because it’s not about Sobran, then it cannot possibly be good. (Except the book is about Sobran in a way because it’s all about “After Sobran” and learning to live again with how hard Xas took his death.)

So I really look forward to August and when you get to reread the book, so I can revel in your squee! It’ll no doubt help me be able to appreciate the book properly and point out all sorts of awesome that I missed.

Memory: I have tried to squee to the best of my ability. Only took me, like, two hours to draft the first e-mail involved in this buddy ready. All the Robin Hobb reviews I wrote immediately before it fried my brain.

Lynn: <3 *good thoughts* i think we’re both a bit low on squee because there’s so much to these books and, admittedly, we may be a little bit mismatched in overall tastes so it’s a little tricky to land on stuff we both squee about copiously. (Which is weird since we’re both character-oriented readers.)

Memory: There’s certainly a ton to unpack. I must admit, too, I didn’t love this one quite as much the second time through (though I hasten to say I did still love it. Just not with the same furious intensity). It’s a bit weird; I loved TVN even more, while this one didn’t have quite the same impact the second time through. I look forward to seeing how I feel about it after Reading #3.

Lynn: Awwww. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t love it as much this time around even if you still loved it a lot. Maybe it’s because this one has more characters central to Xas’ life so it’s a bit less focused than The Vintner’s Luck was in terms of character?

Memory: I think it was probably because I originally read it at the absolute perfect time. I’m liable to come back around to that sort of intense love in another reread or two. My favourite books often slide in and out that way.

Lynn: I’m glad to hear you’re liable to come back around to that love! I hate it when I don’t love a book as much on a reread. It’s a sucky feeling. But reading books at the absolute perfect time is the best. YAY for reading it at the absolute best possible time!


And that’s us all talked out. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and we hope to team up again for at least The Angel’s Reserve some day in the future. It’d be an entirely new read to both of us, so that would be extremely exciting.

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