REVIEW: Pulling the Wings Off Angels by K.J. Parker

Last Updated on February 12, 2024

K.J. Parker is a pseudonym for British author Tom Holt, two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award for best novella. Given his impressive track record in the genre, I was excited to read Parker’s latest fantasy novella, Pulling the Wings Off Angels.

Pulling the Wings Off AngelsPulling the Wings Off Angels takes place in the fantasy world of Chosroene, a medieval-inspired land that is only loosely developed for the purposes of the novella. The narrator is a theology student who has lost faith in God, known in Chosroene as the Invincible Sun. Freed from religious morals, the narrator lives a life of debauchery and has racked up a massive debt to a local gangster, Florio.

As Pulling the Wings Off Angels opens, Florio threatens to torture the narrator for his inability to pay back his debt. But Florio also offers him a way to clear his liabilities by rescuing an angel who had supposedly been kidnapped and imprisoned by the narrator’s impresario grandfather over eighty years ago.

The narrator, of course, does not believe in this legend concerning his grandfather, trusting that he was an upstanding citizen. Given his doubts about the existence of God, he also doesn’t believe in angels.

Imagine the narrator’s surprise, then, when he discovers a glowing angel imprisoned in the basement of a local chapel. The angel’s wings have been clipped, making her unable to escape since, as she explains, angel legs are not actually functional for walking.

To make matters worse, God is unable to help the angel—and is unaware of the angel’s predicament—because she is trapped in a room that is completely hidden to God. We learn that the room was designed by Saloninus, a theology professor who has discovered a means of locally limiting the sight of the Invincible Sun.

The setup of Pulling the Wings Off Angels is meant to raise a paradox about the existence of God in the context of their religion. Most of the discussions in the novella are related to theology, including whether unrepented sins are passed down through the generations and whether it is ever too late for a sinner to repent.

Although K.J. Parker’s writing is outstanding and the novella raises some interesting questions, ultimately Pulling the Wings Off Angels falls flat. The main problem is that the theological paradox raised by the author is in the context of a made-up religion in a fantasy world where the rules seem to have been designed specifically to construct the aforementioned paradox.

Another issue is K.J. Parker’s use of Italian-inspired worldbuilding to represent a fantasy country run by gangsters. This trope has been used in the Venetian-inspired world of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series (starting with The Lies of Locke Lamora), as well as Robert Jackson Bennett’s Founders Trilogy (Foundryside). While I enjoyed the Italian representation in these books, I don’t particularly appreciate the Godfather-style typecasting of Italian culture as being full of thieves and mafia-style gangster families.

Despite its interesting premise and excellent writing, Pulling the Wings Off Angels ultimately fails to deliver on its promise to present a compelling theological paradox.

2.5/5

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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