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Book Club Mon Dec 21 2015
Branden Johnson's Heaven's Forgotten begins with the story of Moira, a young single mother, and her daughter, Penelope running from the fallen angel who is the girl's father. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Penelope is more than she seems and her father is not the only fallen angel looking for them.
The plot is structured much like an action movie complete with cross country road trips (I counted two per character), casually graphic murder, and amateurs picking up firearms. The bright side of the action movie structure is that the pacing keeps the story moving along. The main conflict represented by the fallen angel, Michael, resolves itself one third of the way through the book with minimal fanfare, leading the larger conspiracy to take the stage. The last two thirds of the book feel like an entire season of "Supernatural" minus Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki eye candy.
Where the novel suffers is in the area of character development especially of the three female characters, though two are supposed to be main characters. The female characters are reminded time and again that they are helpless from danger without the help of a man and they all react to stress with screams and tears, sometimes pathetically beating at the chests of the men in the room. Moira depends on her ex-boyfriend to drive her and Penelope from North Carolina to her hometown of Chicago to seek the help of another man, Adam, she knew before she changed her name to "Moira" to protect herself. He proposes asking for help from the richest man in Chicago, and then somehow they're on the road to Arizona to ask Jezebel for help. I had high hopes for Jezebel being a strong female character, but she lost my respect when she deceptively threw herself at the object of her unrequited love and then cried when he got angry at her.
Is it fair to hold underdeveloped characters against a brave first time author? Probably not. So overlooking that, we come back to the plot that has three false endings. The first is a classic action/horror movie case of "killing the villain, but wait, they're not actually dead so we have to do it again." Then we have the happily ever after for Moira and her family, in another chapter Michael receives his reward, and finally, the last chapter wraps up the book 84 years later. I will allow that I like a neat ending as much as the next person, but I think in the case of Heaven's Forgotten, the ending is a little too neat which tells me that the book wants to be about everyone in this little family when it can end after the first "ending" chapter without losing anything substantial.
I will admit that the description of Chicago at night was my favorite thing about it: "And Moira stared at the cityscape as it came upon them. Like a titan from some ancient culture's mythology, it had many glowing eyes and so many ways to kill you" (288).
It is clear that Heaven's Forgotten is a first novel, which can explain a number of the book's pitfalls, but it also gives me hope that Branden Johnson has room to grow in order to create more nuanced characters in his next novel.