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By J. Stephen Bolhafner
Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Friday, June 12, 1998 Page E3

The Alleluia Files A novel by Sharon Shinn 474 pages, Ace Books, $13.95 (paper)

In "The Alleluia Files," Sharon Shinn brings to a conclusion the story begun in "Archangel" and continued in "Jovah's Angel." Each book can stand alone (I read the second one first), but obviously the experience of this one will be richer if you have read the other two.

Shinn's is a trilogy in the original sense of the term, rather than the post-Tolkien sense of a single story stretched over three volumes. Each book has its own set of characters, its own time frame and its own tale to tell. "The Alleluia Files," for instance, takes place 100 years after the events of "Jovah's Angel." The first two books seemed related primarily by the fact that they share as their setting a single, marvelous, invented world. The last book shows that all three stories are, in fact, all parts of a larger story about the history and development of the people of that world.

The character of Tamar, the primary protagonist (although there are three different characters whose viewpoint we share at different times) is Shinn's most interesting yet. She is a Jacobite, a heretic who believes that the god Jovah who rules their planet is actually a machine, the spaceship that brought their ancestors to this world, still orbiting high above the sky. Tamar is an orphan, an outcast, a strong-willed, quick-witted, unsentimental survivor in a harsh and dangerous world. And she is in great danger, for someone is rounding up the Jacobites, intent on their extermination.

For the Jacobites teach a preposterous heresy. The prayers that the winged angels sing to bring down rain or medicine are merely aural cues that trigger certain actions by the machine, releasing chemicals into the atmosphere that cause clouds to form and release rain, for instance. The angels themselves are the result of genetic manipulation by the early settlers, before they deliberately forgot all the technology they felt destroyed their home world.

The Jacobites believe that many years ago the Archangel Alleluia visited this ship and left a record behind of her journey. With this proof they feel they can sway the minds of all Samaria, as the main continent on the planet is called. "Till we find the Alleluia files" is a common phrase among them.

Lucinda is an angel, raised in isolation away from the rest of her kind by a stern but loving aunt. Her mother was an angel's daughter who was an early convert to the Jacobite cause. She froze to death escaping imprisonment after having given birth to Lucinda. She never said who the father was, but after her death one of the angels at the hold where she was held captive committed suicide. Rather than letting Lucinda grow up subjected to teasing or worse over this scandal, Lucinda's aunt took her far away, to a small island between Samaria and the other inhabited continent, Ysral. She's about 30 when she returns for the first time for a visit.

Jared is an important person, not just an angel but the nominal leader of Monteverde, one of three angel holds, and often spoken of as a possibility for the successor to the Archangel, the leader of all angels and essentially monarch of the theocratic Samarian society.

How these lives become intertwined and come to affect the lives of many others - indeed, the whole of Samarian society - is a tale that makes for exciting, suspenseful, romantic, frightening and even amusing reading. Unlike most sequential science fiction and fantasy novels, each of these books is better than the last.

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