Published by Berkley on October 26, 2021
Genres: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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Nalini Singh returns to the world of the Guild Hunters for the most highly anticipated novel of the beloved series—a love story so epic it’s been half a millennia in the making…
Illium and Aodhan. Aodhan and Illium. For centuries they’ve been inseparable: the best of friends, closer than brothers, companions of the heart. But that was before—before darkness befell Aodhan and shattered him, body, mind, and soul. Now, at long last, Aodhan is healing, but his new-found strength and independence may come at a devastating cost—his relationship with Illium.
As they serve side by side in China, a territory yet marked by the evil of its former archangel, the secret it holds nightmarish beyond imagining, things come to an explosive decision point. Illium and Aodhan must either walk away from the relationship that has defined them—or step forward into a future that promises a bond infinitely precious in the life of an immortal…but that demands a terrifying vulnerability from two badly bruised hearts.
A beautiful story of the unwavering bond that defines two souls.
Illium and Aodhan have always been soulmates—-whether we are talking about their five centuries of devoted friendship or the wisps of a deeper bond long simmering between then.
Meeting as toddlers and growing up together at the Rufuge created a bond stronger then brothers and while Illium and Aodhan are such polar opposites in personality, what defines these men is their friendship and love for each other.
When Aodhan went missing for almost two years, Illium was relentless in his search only eating and sleeping to keep up his strength to continue to find his friend; and when Aodhan was finally freed from his captors, Illium was always there to support and protect his friend. Even while they were angry with each other for the past year, when Illium’s hated father returned from his Sleep, Aodhan didn’t hesitate to fly to Illium’s side to support his friend.
And what has torn apart these men after five centuries of unwavering friendship? After 200 years of hiding from the world, Aodhan was ready to step back into the life he was building before his kidnapping. He was finally ready to face the world again but two centuries of being overprotective of his wounded friend has turned Illium into a helicopter parent always ready to step in between Aodhan and anything that would hurt him. This newly reawakened Aodhan is suddenly feeling suffocated and tired of being treated like a broken doll and his angry outburst was a slap in the face to the man who would do anything to keep his friend safe.
When an opportunity arose for Aodhan to step in as the Second to the new Archangel of China, not only was it an honor to be selected, it would give Aodhan a chance to step away from the protection of his friends and be an opportunity to stand on his own two feet for this first time in centuries. He loves Raphael and being one of Raphael’s seven, but being the Second to an Archangel will allow Aodhan a chance to show the world that he is once again a strong warrior. But in order to shine in the spotlight, Aodhan needed to push Illium out of that protective stance he has taken up in front of him.
In Archangel’s Light, Raphael sends Illium to China in support of Aodhan and his Archangel Suyin. When Illium arrives in China, and he and Aodhan are forced to interact for the first time in months, they quickly realize that this fight has damaged their friendship in a way they never imagined could happen. When danger arrives they can still fight as team, it is when the danger passes they don’t know how to just be with each other without being so angry or setting the other off. Both of them are truly frightened that they have broken something precious, something which is so fundamentally important to them but neither can figure out how to make things right between them. As they struggle to figure out what they can do to make things right, they both come to realize just how much they expected to have the other man in their lives forever and the possible loss of this bond is terrifying. It is an innocent touch that sparks the idea that maybe their bond is destined for something more than just friends.
While many fans are horrified and some are downright angry at this turn of events, as the story unfolds with chapters devoted to yesterday and today, we see exactly how their bond develops over the centuries and how their different personalities create this bond that hasn’t been overshadowed by any other in 500 years. We see how these evolving feelings surprise even them. But as Aodhan notes, “…angels are not like the majority of mortals. Their kind lived far too long to see sexuality as an inflexible construct.”
If you truly think about it, these two angels have shared a special bond throughout all fourteen books and reading Archangel’s Light we see how it was forged since childhood. Aodhan and Illium. Bluebell and Sparkle. You know you love their friendship and we have all been as devastated by the distance that was growing between them as we were when Elena started to lose her wings. There is really no other love that could (or should) come between them, especially in light of the shaky ground their friendship has been on in the last two books. How could bringing in another romantic interest not drive a further wedge between our favorite angelic BFFs? Would you expect them not to put a love interest before their best friend in terms of importance no matter how long or strong that friendship? So unless they the end up dating conjoined twin sisters, one of them would have been left out in the cold cut off from the person who means the most to them and that would have been devastating to see and destructive to the angel left behind.
The shift in feelings takes both Illium and Aodhan by surprise but feels as natural and as comfortable as cuddling in a favorite blanket, both to them and to us, the readers. Friends to lovers is one of my favorite tropes because there is nothing so wonderful as to watch the person who loves you no matter your flaws and faults finally realize those feeling of friendship are really much deeper and that the person you laugh with, cry with and turn to first is truly your soulmate.
After reading Archangel’s Light, you will see what I have seen, a pure love that was always destined to be.
When a burst of light landed beside him, he bent down with his hands on his knees, his sword strapped safely to his back, and gasped. “Sorry. Training.”
Aodhan didn’t say anything, standing in quiet next to Illium until Illium could breathe properly again. He could see half of Aodhan’s leg and and part of Aodhan’s wings from his bent-over position. His friend was wearing brown sandals, and his favorite old pants that had started out white but were not kind of a dull light brown, with small rips in them. His wings glittered like the stones in Lady Ariha’s necklace.
Light shattered off Aodhan, was drawn to him.
Though Illium was used to it, it was still kind of difficult to look at him in the bright sunshine. Playfully pushing his friend into the shade of a nearby tree when he could stand straight again, he said, “I think I see stars.”
It was an old joke between them, from a time when Illium had fallen and hit his head and thought he was seeing stars when really it was Aodhan leaning over him with the sun sparking off his hair.
The two of them found it hilarious.
But today, Aodhan didn’t laugh. His face was still and tight. Illium immediately stopped joking around. “What happened?”
Aodhan kicked at a piece of rock. “Can we go flying?”
Illium had intended to walk all the way home, but he said, “Where do you want to go?”
When Aodhan just shrugged, Illium said, “I know where we can fly.” There was a place his mother had shown him–a mountain field of lots of flowers and butterflies. Aodhan loved butterflies, even though he liked to pretend he didn’t. Illium didn’t tease him about it; teasing was for stuff that wasn’t important. Butterflies were important to Aodhan in some way.
They took off soon after. Illium couldn’t do vertical takeoffs yet, but they were at a high point near the gorge. So he walked to the edge of the massive split in the earth, and took off from there, sweeping down on the air currents, then rising up into the clear blue of the sky. The two of them still didn’t have permission to gorge dive, but this–using the lift created by the air cradled in the gorge–was allowed.
Illium didn’t complain when Aodhan flew much higher. Aodhan liked doing that because he attracted too much attention when he flew closer to the ground. Littles their age weren’t usually allowed at such high elevations, but Aodhan had been given special permission after Illium’s mother went and talked to the other adults.
Now, Aodhan was a spark in the sky.
“He is a little sun,” Mama had said one day, her voice dreamy as she looked up at the sky where Aodhan flew. “So bright and open and full of an inner light that I worry will be bruised by the world.”
Her fingers in Illium’s hair. “I worry about both of you, my two bright sparks.”
Today, Aodhan followed Illium until they reached the field of flowers and butterflies. Then he came straight down to land on his feet. He wasn’t anywhere near as fast as Illium, but he was much faster than other children around their age.
A huge butterfly of jewel green settled immediately on his shoulder. It fluttered up when Aodhan slumped into a seated position on the field, then settled again. Other, smaller butterflies found spots on Aodhan’s wings, his hair, even on his legs. Each time he moved, the air shimmered with color.
Illium’s mother had painted Aodhan covered with butterflies and even though Aodhan had gone a funny color at seeing it, he kept the painting in his bedroom. He wouldn’t even give it to his own mama, even though she’d pressed both hands to her cheeks and asked with shining eyes.
Sitting down beside his best friend, Illium pulled off his practice sword. It might be stubby and made of wood, but he loved it because Raphael had given it to him once he decided Illium was old enough for sword training. When it broke–because all practice swords broke after a while–Illium was going to save a piece and see if his mother’s friend who carved things could carve him a tiny sword out of it, for Illium to put in his box of keep-things.
He put down the sword with care, then fell back in the grass so he was looking up at the sky, with the flowers waving alongside him, and Aodhan’s bright presence to the left. Then he waited. Trying to make Aodhan talk when he didn’t want to talk was stupid. All it got anyone was a tired voice.
Aodhan’s mama and papa didn’t seem to understand that. They were nice, but they thought Aodhan was like his sister Imalia, who was already a grown-up. If they’d been his parents, Illium would’ve been mad at them for not knowing him, but Aodhan never got mad. He just said, “Eh-ma knows me. You know me. Teacher knows me. I don’t need a lot of people to know me.”
So because Illium knew him, he closed his eyes against the sunlight and began to talk about his training, including the new moves Raphael had taught him. “I’ll teach you,” he promised his friend. Aodhan was good at physical things, but he only did them because Illium did, so they could play battle games together.
Mostly, he liked making art.
“Thanks,” Aodhan said, speaking at last. “You were tired.”
“Raphael is a tough teacher.” Illium loved that the archangel didn’t baby him–he wasn’t dumb, he knew that Raphael didn’t treat him like a warrior. Because he wasn’t a warrior. You didn’t just decide you were one. You had to become one. Other warriors had to evaluate your skills and decide you were worth the title. “One day, I’m going to be in his seniorest squadron.”
“That’s not a word,” Aodhan said, but Illium could tell he was smiling. “Seniorest.”
When Aodhan laughed, Illium opened his eyes–to see the butterflies take flight in tiny bursts of colors. Slumping back into the flowers and grasses with Illium, their fingers just touching, Aodhan sighed. “I was trying to show my art to this artist Eh-ma said I might like to talk to–she even gave me an introduction letter.”
“Was he horrible about your art?” He didn’t think his mother would’ve suggested a person like that, but her art friends could be strange. In their own worlds, but not like his mother. Different. And a few of them were plain odd or rude. They said things that weren’t polite and thought it was all right because they were great artists.
Illium spoke his final thought out loud to Aodhan. “You know that’s not right,” he added. “My mother is the greatest artist of all and she’d kind.” That wasn’t only Illium’s opinion, either–people across the Refuge, even archangels like Uram and Lijuan, they called her art a “gift to angelkind.” “Don’t pay attention to the ones who think they’re so important they can be mean.”
“It’s not that,” Aodhan answered. “I don’t mind being told I’m not that good or could improve–I want to learn, want to get better.”
Illium broke off a grass stalk, chewed on it. “Yeah, that’s how I feel when I mess up in training and get shown what I did wrong.”
Aodhan stirred up into a seated position, pulling his knees to his chest. His skin glimmered in the sun. Not with sweat. With the sparkle that was buried in his skin. That was why Illium, inspired by Naasir, had begun to call him Sparkle a long time ago. He only did it in fun, and he knew when Aodhan would laugh–and when it wouldn’t be right to use it. Like today.
“Adi?” he said, using the old baby name he’d used back when they didn’t even go to school.
Aodhan shifted again, flopping down onto his stomach this time. It disturbed the butterflies once more. The big green one fluttered over him in irritation before landing in his hair. “He barely paid attention to my art,” Aodhan said, his voice gritty. “He kept staring at me.”
“A lot of people stare at you.” It was a fact of life.
“Not this way. He kept saying how he’d heard I was beautiful, but that I was ‘simply astonishing’ in the flesh, and he couldn’t wait to capture ‘my essence’ on canvas. On and on.” Aodhan was ripping out hunks of grass as he spoke. “It was like he didn’t even see me as a person. Just the outside! Just the shine! He ignored my art, Blue. Ignored it like it was nothing.”
Illium frowned. “I don’t know how anyone can ignore your art.”
Aodhan’s work was really good and even if Illium was a young angel, art was a topic he knew better than many adults. Growing up with his mother allowed for nothing else. Their home was filled with art, artists came and went on a near-daily basis, and his mother talked about art like warriors talked about battle tactics.
As if it was her air.
Illium wasn’t that interested in art for himself, but he loved how happy it made her, so he listened. And now, he listened because it made Aodhan happy, too. Just like they listened to him talk about swords and hand-to-hand combat, and flight squadron war tactics.
You listened to the people you loved. That was how it was.
“Well, he did,” Aodhan muttered, pulling apart the strands of grass. “He didn’t see anything but the sparkle and the shine.” Reaching up, he pulled at his own hair. “Sometimes, I wish I could rip off my hair, peel off my skin, tear out my feathers, and just be a normal angel!”
“Don’t say thing like that! You’re you. I like you.”
“I want to be normal!” Aodhan’s fingers worked on the strands of grass. “So people won’t be distracted by me. So people will see the art I create, the things I make!”
“They will,” Illium said, then used his strongest weapon. “Mother sees you, and she’d the best artist of all.”
Aodhan was quiet for a little while. “She’s different. She’s better than anyone else.”
“I know. But Raphael sees you, too–and not because you’re pretty.”
Aodhan glared at him for using that word.
Illium grinned. “I’m prettier.”
A tiny twitch of his friend’s lips. “Ha-ha.” But he wasn’t scowling so hard now. “Raphael did say I have good grace in the air.”
“Yeah, and the trainer said we could always stain your wings and hair another color so you wouldn’t stand out in battle.” It had been during a strategy discussion after their flight tactics session–they were only short lessons, since they were so young, but Illium took it seriously and the trainer rewarded him by teaching him extra things.
He knew Aodhan had only joined the class to keep him company, but his friend wasn’t bad at warrior skills. Illium was only ahead of him because he spent so much more of his time on it.
“He said the same about your wings,” Aodhan murmured.
“Uh-huh, and even about Rufi.” Their fellow trainee had wings of orangey yellow that made her look like a tropical bird–like the one Illium had seen in a drawing in a book in the Library.
Aodhan nodded again. “They treat me normal.” His voice wasn’t so angry anymore. “Not like I’m a thing they want to put on a shelf or make art about.”
Illium hated that anyone had made his friend feel that way, but he also knew Aodhan would have to deal with this for the rest of his life. He hadn’t been meant to be listening, but he’d heard their teacher talking to his mother about Aodhan, her kind voice full of worry.
“If he was another kind of child,” Jessamy had said, “I’d worry he’d become spoiled. But Aodhan is so private that I’m increasingly concerned the attention will drive him more and more inward.”
Illium’s mother had been like before-times that day, her eyes clear and her mind in the here. “Aodhan doesn’t need many anchors to steady him in life,” she’d said. “As long as he has two or three strong lines, he will be content.”
“That’s good to hear, Lady Sharine., You probably know him best, even more than his parents.”
“The trouble,” Illium’s mother had added, “will come with those who can’t see beneath the unique beauty of his outer skin. They will hurt him–and so we must focus on teaching him that their blindness takes nothing away from his light and his gifts.”
Illium had thought a lot about that. Often, he had too many thoughts in his head and couldn’t sit still, but that day, he’d gone off to his favorite spot and really thought about just that one thing–and he’d come to a conclusion.
Today, he spoke that conclusion aloud. “There are stupid people in the world–but them being dumbos doesn’t change that you’re my friend, or that you’re an artist, or anything else about you.” He was pretty sure that was what his mother had meant. “You have to learn to ignore the stupids.”
Then he added a thing he’d though up on his own. “Those people are still going to be stupid tomorrow, but you’re going to be getting better and better in your art and in your warrior training–until one day, you’ll be in an archangel’s court”–with Illium, because the two of them were always going to be friends–“And they’ll still be here, being stupid in stupid world.”
Aodhan snorted out a small laugh…that grew and grew and grew. Illium grinned. Nobody else could make Aodhan laugh that way, and it was one of his favorite thing in the whole world when it happened.