Book Review: The Space Between, by Brenna Yovanoff

November 30, 2011 at 11:47 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Atop the tallest building in Pandemonium, a metal garden blooms and cuts as a woman watches her daughters in a world she can never touch. In a museum dedicated to the articles clutched by the unfortunate at death, a fallen angel oversees the collection of lost souls. And in a room, carefully insulated from the heat of the furnace, sits a girl. Who waits.
Until she meets a boy intent on destroying himself. Until her brother leaves her for a life their kind isn’t meant to have. Until her brother goes missing.
Then, for the first time, she’ll have to venture to Earth and find out if she’s truly her mother’s daughter, or if she’s better, her brother’s sister.
But only if the Angel of Death doesn’t kill her first.

“Once, my mother told a whole host of angels that she’d rather die than go back to a man she didn’t love.”

So begins Daphne’s story, as she tells us of how her mother Lilith walked away from Adam and the Garden of Eden, how her father Lucifer fell from heaven, or Pandemonium and the fragile sense of time that a few struggle to carve out of days that blur together with no proportion to the human world. She isn’t like her mother, passionate and cold, or like her mother’s other daughters, the Lilim, who prey on the human men of Earth like succubi. She isn’t even particularly like her beloved older brother Obie, son of Lilith and Adam, who goes to Earth to try to save the lost ones, half-angels who careen their way through life as broken dolls and all too often end up in the arrival terminal in Hell. Daphne simply is, with no purpose or calling, no sense that it may ever change.

And then her world turns upside down. The rules of being on Earth are simple: demons have a job to do, to collect the lost and the damned, but they don’t belong there. They can visit, but they can’t stay. Those who violate that are hunted down by Azrael, the fiercely loyal and unforgiving Angel of Death, and his cruel messenger, Dark Dreadful. Obie, though, is in love, and willing to risk death to have a normal-human– life with the woman he leaves. Daphne doesn’t know how to stop him, doesn’t know the words to make him stay, but as she tries anyway, a boy arrives in Hell in the hands of one of the bone men, a boy still soaked pink with bloody water from his death, one of Obie’s charges. A lost one, with divine ancestry that threatens at every moment to shatter him, a broken boy, a train wreck of a boy.

And Daphne holds his hand, begs for the boy to be given another chance.

This is a gorgeous book, something that goes far beyond faith and mythology to challenge the very meaning of redemption. It’s a journey, so much more than miles. Daphne starts out with nothing more than boredom and a vague fascination with a world she never expects to see. She isn’t like her half-sisters with their need to draw the energies of men. She doesn’t want to be like them. There’s nothing for her to do, no need for her to be anything. She can name her brother as good, can feel for him, but doesn’t have the slightest idea that what she feels for him is a kind of love, something that should be alien in Pandemonium but instead finds other ways to express itself. When Obie goes missing, the smart thing to do would be to write him off. He broke the rules. He reached for something he couldn’t have. Instead, she breaks rules of her own to go after him into a world she knows nothing about, a world that will awaken her to possibilities she never could have imagined. It will also awaken her to abilities she’ll have to claim through her mother’s blood, abilities she never wanted to discover or need.

And then there’s Truman, utterly bent on self-destruction by any means possible, for whom death-wish is far too mild. This is a boy desperate to die, to escape from a world that batters him at every turn. A great deal of that battery is self-inflicted, though, which he can even sometimes admit. Nightmares plague him so rather than sleep he hops up on caffeine or drinks enough booze to flat pass out but still they find him, a faceless terror that beats him down further and, sometimes, a glimpse of a pale, dark-haired girl with eyes the color of steel, a girl who once held his hand and made him believe, just for a moment, that he was safe. He’s Obie’s last known case and the only person Daphne can think of who might know anything of Obie’s whereabouts.

The narrative passes between them, sometimes alternating every other chapter, at other times lingering with one for several chapters before trading to the other. Daphne’s first person is curious and a little cold, but burdened with the potential of a slow and painful thaw that will bring as much grief as joy. She’s clueless about the above ground world, taking things at face value and making odd statements with no sense of how people fit together. She knows theory but she’s never had any practical experience with humans, and little enough experience even with other demons. She avoids most of her half-sisters, has no reason to see the bone men who collect or torture the damned souls. Truman’s story is told in an introspective third person, a spiraling decay into destruction and damnation that hovers, briefly and impossible, on a strange girl’s outstretched hand.

The discoveries they make, of themselves, of each other, are beautifully drawn with sharp and prickly edges and a hope like swallowing broken glass. It isn’t easy. Every step of the way there’s new pain, new fear. There are new threats. But there’s joy there, too, in that sense of self they slowly learn.

There aren’t really many characters in this story but most of those we meet really stand out. Lilith, cold and proud and fierce in her metal garden, craving a love she can’t find and protecting her children in the only way she knows how, hard-edged and cruel though it often is. Beelzebub, handsome and charming, Daphne’s surrogate father of sorts, who heads the Collections and remembers what it was like to be an angel. Charlie, Truman’s step-father, who tries so hard and grieves so keenly. Moloch, who is pretty much awesome in every respect. I didn’t expect to like Moloch, but the personality that unfolds through our interactions with him is multi-faceted and complicated, but stunningly, breath-takingly real, even in the wry humor and cycnicism. There’s Myra and Dierde, two of Daphne’s half-sisters, and Petra, another half-sister who’s nothing like them, and all three serve to emphasize how Daphne isn’t like any of them. Azrael who is just…beyond words creepy. And Obie, physically present for so little of the book but has such a direct impact on everything else, through his influence on Daphne, on Truman. Obie is Daphne’s only definition of what it means to be good.

There is so much more I could say, so much more I want to say, but I wouldn’t want to spoil even a moment of the incredible revelations that wait around every corner, the hope that hones truth to a knife’s edge right up to a stunning conclusion every bit as brave as defying an entire host of angels in the name of love.

The Space Between is built off of beautifully layered mythologies, a book that takes so much of its foundation from religion and yet somehow manages to stand completely outside of it. This book isn’t about Good and Evil- it’s about what it means to be good or do evil, and all the murky areas in between. It’s gritty and stark and unexpectedly lovely, and managed the very rare task of choking me up for a good thirty pages or so.

Read. This. Book.

Until next time~

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