Sunday, November 2, 2008

Angel Land By Victor Banis

Reviewed by Alan Chin

Victor Banis takes the reader into the future, late in the 21st Century, when the United States has disintegrated into territories ruled by Fundamental Christians. Catholics, Baptists and Jews are registered as heretics, and gays are herded into walled ghettos that are reminiscent of the Jewish slums of Nazi Germany. In this setting, Harvey Milk Walton, a young gay man on the run from the religious authorities, finds that his only option to escape execution is to hide in the gay ghetto, but he soon finds himself jumping from the frying pan into the fire, because the ghetto holds its own lethal threat: the Sept virus. Sept is the seventh and deadliest mutation of the AIDS virus of the Twentieth Century, but unlike AIDS, no one is exactly sure how Sept is transmitted, which makes it all the more frightening.
In a crumbling totalitarian society, where evil masquerades as piety, gay people are cut off from the rest of humanity and dying of the Sept virus, Harvey Milk Walton faces great danger and agonizing choices which could affect the future of mankind. Can he muster enough strength to live up to his martyred namesake of long ago and rise to lead a rebellion?

Victor Banis stretches his considerable talents in this daring novel. This story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a society turned into hell. It has extraordinary power, with images that grab hold of you and don’t let go. In the midst of this nightmare, Victor creates a heartwarming love story that is a testament to the human spirit.

The author uses a technique that I have not seen before. The story starts off being told from Harvey Milk Walton’s 1st person point of view, but then switches to 3rd person POV, and thereafter toggles back and forth from 1st to 3rd at regular intervals. I found these POV switches to be seamless, and greatly added to developing the depths of several characters. This is a character driven story, and Victor skillfully opens up his characters and allows us see to their core.

The plot is more complex than Victor’s previous works, which combines with his consummate skill at crafting prose and his well-researched details to keep the reader fully engaged until the last page. Victor Banis’s writing, like fine wine, keeps getting better with age. I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys multifaceted characters, humor, and a well-crafted story.

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