The Angel Makers by Jessica Gregson

28 Feb


“I have made mistakes. As surely as those eight women are twisting in the wind right now, in my own way, I’ve been twisting in the wind my whole life…”

The year is 1914.

Suspected of Witchcraft, Sari is an outcast in her small Hungarian village of Falucska. Life is hard for most in the village but even harder for Sari. The daughter of a Taltos (a medicine man) and possessor of the Second Sight, Sari is lonely beyond words. Day after day she is gossiped about and made the stuff of urban legend. When her father dies, the rumors and gossip increase tenfold; Sari is sure that she will never fit in, that she will always be an outcast.

The only confidant she has is young Ferenc, a young man enchanted by Sari and destined to be her husband. Ferenc dreams of Sari at night and wants nothing but to possess her, to have her for his own. Sari knows she does not love him, does not know if she can feel love for him. When Ferenc asks her to marry him, she asks him to wait until she is eighteen. Spurned by her refusal, he grows distant.

Judit, the local midwife, takes Sari into her home and begins teaching her the medicines that help and heal. Together they teach each other; Sari teaches Judit of curses and proper use of herbs and Judit teaches Sari the art of birthing babies. The gossip about Sari still runs strong in the village, but soon Sari no longer cares. She has her work and she has Judit and that is enough.

One night, though, Sari has a disturbing sight: she sees men coming, men and battle and blood. She sees men leaving though they do not want to leave and knows that trouble is coming. When Juidit presses her on what she has seen, Sari says that what she saw is not clear. She only knows that what is coming is bad. Very bad.

Then, in 1916, war comes.

War has a way of changing lives. Even the lives in the small village of Falucska, far away from the front lines of the war, begin to change. The men go off to fight and the women who remain must band together in order to retain their sanity and their strength. All the men of the village, including Ferenc, have gone off to fight on the front lines, leaving the woman of the village alone. For once, Sari is not an outcast, not a social pariah and she forms friendships with the women. But then visitors come to the village.

When Ferenc’s family home is turned into a camp for prisoners of war, Sari knows that this will bring nothing but trouble. Several of the woman form relationships with the Italian prisoners; Sari tries to avoid this, tries to avoid letting her heart care for anyone at the camp, but does not count on meeting Marco. They share a love that brightens even the desolate plains of Falucska and Sari feels more alive than ever before.

The two talk of love and of life, knowing that all they share is only temporary, that the war will end and that they will go back to their lives from before; Marco to his wife and Sari to Ferenc. There is no other way. But despite how careful they are with their hearts, fondness grows into love, though both are loathe to admit it.

Then Sari receives a shock: Ferenc is coming home. The year is 1918 and the war is almost over. Shot in the leg, Ferenc is discharged from the army and comes home a broken and very different man. The man who returns does not want to love Sari, he wants to own her, take her, and break her. Sari is shocked when he first hits her, when he first strikes her. She tells herself that it is the war, tells herself that he doesn’t mean it, that it won’t happen again.

But it does. The Ferenc she knew is lost and gone and instead is replaced with someone else. When Sari finds that she is pregnant and almost kills her and the baby, Sari makes a decision: Ferenc must die. But, even in death, secrets have a way of getting out. And Sari is about to learn what happens when women turn murderous…

The Angel Makers by Jessica Gregson is without a doubt the best book I have read in years, period. It has been a long time since I have been so entranced by a book that I wanted to do nothing else but read it; and I’ve read a lot of books. I can’t even begin to describe how good this book is, how incredible it is, but I’m going to try.

This is Gregson’s first novel but it reads like a more mature work; I would have thought it was her third or forth work; the voices are so clear the writing so crisp. This novel is just so bloody refreshing! That she has written such a finely tuned story of war, death, love and revenge in a first novel is incredible and I can only hope that her second novel is just as good.

There are a few things that make this novel so incredible. The main reason is Gregson’s writing. Though the novel covers a good expanse of time, the story never loses its pace; it flows beautifully through one year to the next and never becomes choppy. The novel never loses its stride or its focus; this is a difficult task with so many things happening. Not many authors could write a first novel covering fourteen years with such ease, but Gregson pulls it off with style and grace.

Another plus about the novel is that it never becomes needlessly depressing. Most historical fiction or novels detailed around the First World War leave you wanting to down your sorrows or wandering around in misery. The Angel Makers is different because, while it is by no means a happy novel, it manages to make the grimness of war beautiful. Gregson doesn’t focus on the war itself but those affected by the war, pulling you gently into their story at first. By the time you’re half way through the novel and the tone and story pick up pace, you’re emotionally involved with the characters; you live and breathe Sari’s plight. Not ever author can manage such a deft trick of emotion.

I can honestly say that The Angel Makers is one of those life changing novels; one where you really, truly, know the characters inside and out by the time you have finished reading it. I felt these characters, ached for them, breathed for them. I have never been so exhausted by the end of a novel as if I too had been on the characters journey. Gregson helps you live alongside these characters and I am changed because of this. I don’t know that I will look at any other book I read the same way again having read The Angel Makers.

But why take my word for it? Do you want to find out what makes an angel? Do yourself a favor and read the best book to be published in years, hands down. I can promise that you won’t regret it. I am going to be haunted by Sari for years to come and couldn’t be happier.

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