In the End begins colorfully with a clever and casual remastering of the creation fable. The Creator in this story is a being who becomes bored with their sole companion, Void, and decides to create Stuff to take the place of Nothing. Because this Creator has only got Void for putty, and Void is kind of a jerk, Stuff doesn’t come out perfectly, but it’s better than Nothing. So, the Creator decides this is a good way to pass the time the way some of us take up knitting, and makes it their full time hobby. Heaven, or Riel as Rowland dubs it, is a lovely but boring sort of place on the Creator’s coffee table and Hell, or Rielat, lies underneath the floorboards.
We meet the main character, the Fallen angel Lucien, at the end of a long reconnaissance mission on Earth. He has an apartment, a cat named Antichrist, and a crush on his local weatherperson. Lucien is content on Earth because it is not Rielat. Unfortunately, Lucien’s working vacation comes to an abrupt end when Lucifer and the archangel Michael get into a snit and wage war on each other, choosing Earth as the battleground. Believers of all kinds are raptured, which we learn means harvested for their “belief” much the same way humans in The Matrix were harvested for their electricity. Belief can be turned into Stuff which Riel and Rielat intend to use to obliterate each other. The sky and the ground open up, throwing bits of flaming brimstone all over the place and knocking out all of mankind’s vitals like running water and electricity. Lucien hides behind some trees that are convenient to the respective openings and watches the battle from a safe distance.
Along comes Lalael (La-lyle? Lolly-el? I don’t know), Riel’s ugly duckling. Lowly ranked and clumsy, Lalael attempts to defeat Lucien, the nearest resident of Rielat he can find. This doesn’t go so well, but Lucien is a slacker, not a fighter, so he tries to make friends with his hopeless nemesis and in the midst of the scuffle, the battle behind them comes to an abrupt end. The realms close up at their backs and leave both angels behind. Forever.
Both angels expect Earth to come to a sudden end, but it doesn’t. With nothing else to do and no more loyalties to worry about, Lucien and Lalael move in to Lucien’s apartment together and get up to some odd couple hijinks, supernatural style. They’re faced with the questions of what they should do with their useless-on-Earth skill sets to make a living, how to deal with people when they find out they’re supernatural, how to live among the remaining humans and their limited resources, and what to do with this weatherperson-damned angel Jocelin who arrives out of nowhere and wreaks havoc on everything.
From start to finish, this book is incredibly entertaining. Full disclosure: I’m a bit biased when it comes to religious fiction, or at least the sort that exists simply to have fun with some well established supernatural archetypes and not to hammer in the message of believe-or-else. In the End is exactly my type. It’s also not all that deep. It’s fun and occasionally emotionally engaging, but it’s not a Big Question novel. What’s unique about In the End is that it’s an abundantly creative and intelligent work without being a Big Question novel. It’s well-organized and carefully paced. The rules of the world are logical and the powers of its supernatural inhabitants suitably limited. The language is playful and mood-appropriate. The creativity is humbling. It is sophisticated entertainment.
The only complaint I could think to make during the reading of the book was that the development of minor characters seemed a bit unbalanced. Motley assortments of minor characters that we’d never see again were introduced and described during the rapture while minor characters that ended up having consequential roles in the outcome of the novel were big question marks, or indistinguishable copies of some other minor characters. I kept expecting to see more of the characters from the rapture reappear somewhere and tell us how they were doing. But these are nothing. They could be worked out and polished in a one-hour session with an editor. Hazard of self-publishing.
One of my favorite things about this book aside from getting to see Lucien and Lalael be awesome and witty was how queer positive it was without actually being about being queer. There is no central same-sex relationship. Lalael has a girl that he was interested in back in Riel, but apart from that, nobody’s orientation is ever apparent or even mentioned. There is none of the obnoxious heteronormativity that’s almost impossible to avoid in most media. Girls and guys in the same room together aren’t fraught with sexual tension, nor does everyone around them start to suspect. Lucien’s only romantic interest that we know of is in the weatherperson whose gender is never mentioned. As for being transpositive, well I didn’t know what to make of it honestly. Jocelin is gender variant, but not the butt of any jokes about gender variance, and is only notable because angels in Rowland’s world all come out of the fire with bodies that fit their mental genders. While some of the minor characters spent a little more time than I was comfortable with on the “is Jocelin a guy or a girl” question, nobody ever used this as an excuse not to take Jocelin seriously or be disgusted by them. For the most part, the book managed to be queer positive without ever even mentioning LGBT people. It flowed perfectly naturally. Like The Hunger Games’ unique woman positivity which included women in all levels of power and situations without being treated differently for being women or ever mentioning inequality or feminism, In the End made it seamless. There was no discussion of LGBT activism. Negativity and erasure were simply absent.
In the End is Rowland’s debut novel, but it reads like well-polished craft. It’s available on Amazon for $6.99 which is a bargain for what you’re getting, I promise. Go read it.