Can't Help Falling

by Dan H

Dan is embarrassingly into the works of Lauren Kate
Oooh! This is in the Axis of Awesome!
This article probably makes most sense in the context of Shim's recent review of Fallen which itself probably makes most sense in the context of our TeXt Factor Halloween Special.

This article, from the outset, contains spoilers for Fallen, Torment and for that matter the TeXt Factor (I view it as something of a coming-of-age that I have now written an article which contains a spoiler warning for one of our own site features).

At the end of the event, Lauren Kate's Fallen beat out Rachel Caine's Glass Houses in what we (at the time) billed as the battle of Cam versus Daniel. There has been a vague feeling (in some circles) that the book didn't live up to its promise. Obviously I can't speak to the personal preferences of other people, but I can say that I absolutely heart heart heart Fallen with a big cartoon heart.

Summaries: Here Be Spoilers

So Fallen is about a girl named Luce, short for Lucinda, who is sent away to a reform school named Sword and Cross where she encounters a boy named Daniel to whom she develops an instant and profound attraction. This doesn't stop her also being interested in a boy called Cam who turns out to be totally evil although possibly in a cool sexy way rather than a just a shitbag way. Everybody in the entire school turns out to be a fallen angel, the cool librarian turns out to be some kind of whacked out cultist and everything kicks off in a great big angels-versus-demons battle that doesn't seem to conclude or resolve anything.

For more details on Fallen, see Shim's review and the TeXt Factor special.

Torment begins with Daniel (probably good angel eternally in love with Luce) and Cam (totally evil angel possibly in love with Luce) making an eighteen-day truce to protect Luce from the Outcasts (dastardly Neutral angels – they're the angels who sided with Lucifer, then bottled it and are now on neither side of the war in heaven) who want to kill her (or so it seems). For nebulous reasons to do with her personal protection, Luce is moved away from Sword and Cross to a new school called Shoreline. Where Sword and Cross was ramped-up-to-eleven Gothic, Shoreline is ramped-up-to-eleven Cal-ee-for-nai-aye. Everybody is bronzed and beautiful and, it turns out, Nephilim (that's half-human-half-angel for the benefit of anybody that hasn't seen any of the many, many bits of recent pop culture that included the concept). The book focuses largely on Luce adjusting to her new surroundings and dealing with being separated from Daniel having only just found him.

What's interesting about Torment is that it seems to be written with a sense of awareness which has been lacking in other areas of this subgenre. Sometimes this actually borders on self-reference – for example when the Nephilim students at Shoreline (who have spent their entire lives immersed in Angelic culture) discover who Luce is their first reaction is something along the lines of “OMG Your Story Is So Romantic!!!” There's even a bit later on where she suggests that two of her friends get “Team Daniel” and “Team Miles” teeshirts. Miles, by the way is the guy who actually is the guy who we thought Cam was in the first book – the nice safe guy who might be a better bet for the heroine than the mysterious supernatural guy. Miraculously, he actually comes across quite well. He's nice to Luce but without looking like a spineless prick, or trying to conceal the fact that he's attracted to her.

Torment isn't without its flaws. It's still not entirely clear what the whole “War In Heaven” thing has to do with anything other than providing an excuse to have angels everywhere (because wings are hot, period) and it's certainly not clear why Daniel is the angel everything hangs on – or why if it's all about Daniel people are so focused on Luce. I'm still holding out for her to actually turn out to be Satan. All in all though, Torment does well at being what it is – the second volume in a four-part supernatural romance series – and it's got enough going on that I kept reading and am eagerly awaiting the next volume.

Analysis: But Most of All It Is a Story About Love

The subgenre that we at Ferretbrain have taken to calling “Girl Books for Girls” often presents love as a vast, quasi-supernatural force over which neither party has control. Broadly speaking, people are only allowed to have two attitudes to this:


Two: Grow the fuck up.

What I've found fascinating about the first two books in the Fallen saga is that it seems to be taking a more nuanced approach to the whole issue.

Luce's love for Daniel is, quite clearly, the big Twilight-esque inexplicable obsession. It's even explicitly supernatural in origin, Daniel is quite literally Luce's destiny. Unlike a lot of books in the genre, however, the Fallen series seems to be taking a step back and asking what all of that actually means.

Luce spends the vast majority of Torment dealing with the reality of everything she learns at the end of Fallen. Part of this involves realising that while (as the girls at Shoreline believe) being immortal doomed lovers seems cool, it actually involves a series of seventeen year old girls being burned to death, leaving behind devastated families to pick up the pieces. Part of it involves realising that Daniel knows that this is going to happen every single time and still makes the choice to pursue her anyway. Part of it involves realising that this is kind of a dick move. And part of it involves realising that she loves him anyway.

There's something about this I just found weirdly mature. More mature, in many ways, than the knee-jerk “don't be stupid, love doesn't work like that” response you get from a lot of people. The thing about the immortal, doomed lovers schtick is that it is really compelling, and when you think more closely about how it has to work it's kind of creepy but still really compelling. Luce is basically presented with what, for many people (including, crucially, the book's target audience) is the dream romance. It is, to quote the blurb on the back: “Forbidden, Eternal, a Love to Die For”. But the book recognises that being “Forbidden”, “Eternal” and “To Die For” does not make something uncomplicated or even right.

I don't actually think for one second that Luce is going to end up with anybody with Daniel, but I think the process by which she is going to wind up being with Daniel is going to be what makes the books worth reading. She has – as some readers have pointed out – very little actual contact with him in either Fallen or Torment, what attracts her to him is this vast, uncontrollable, unfounded passion and the central conflict of the series seems not to be whether their love can triumph over external obstacles, but whether it will be enough for Luce. There's something – for want of a better word – deconstructive about the series' attitude to love. We are never asked to question the reality or validity of Luce's feelings for Daniel, but we are asked to accept that she can have real, valid feelings for other people as well. What I find so interesting about the Fallen series is that Luce is allowed to genuinely question her feelings for Daniel without that act of questioning invalidating them.

I don't expect that she will end up with Cam or Miles or whichever hot guy she picks up in book three or four, but I do expect that when she inevitably winds up with Daniel it will be on her own terms. Perhaps I'm overinvesting in a minor element of the text, but one of the silly things that impressed me about Fallen is that Luce cuts her hair off. Her long black hair is the single most striking feature of Luce-the-romantic-heroine (it appears on the cover of the book, and it's a major component of every flashback and everything that evokes her past lives) but it's no longer past of Luce the real girl with the real life. In Torment she actually goes blonde. It might be silly to read too much into a haircut, but I think you can make a strong case that Luce's changing hairstyle goes a long way towards giving her an identity as a person which is distinct from her identity as Luce-from-Luce-and-Daniel.

The thing which I think a lot of people find creepy about the girls-and-vampires subgenre of fiction is that it is so often so self-erasing. The heroines, designed explicitly as placeholders for the audience, fade into nothingness outside the narrow confines of their relationships. Somehow Luce doesn't. It helps that Torment focuses almost entirely on what Luce does when she isn't around Daniel (or for that matter Cam), and therefore gives her space to be herself. It also helps that every time Daniel acts like a patronising dickwad she – well – calls him on it, and seems to be doing it genuinely rather than just protesting too much. To put it another way, although her blog does include the obligatory “Team Daniel or Team Cam” post I have a certain amount of faith that Lauren Kate is firmly on Team Luce.

Genre fiction is all, on some level, built around fantasies. People's responses to genre fiction often boil down to accepting those fantasies uncritically, or rejecting them unilaterally. Both of these responses can be equally unhelpful. What I find compelling about the Fallen series is that it seems to be saying both that it is okay to want the big overwhelming fairytale (or dark fairytale) kind of love, but that it's also okay to want other things, and that it's even okay to want several different things at once.

So yeah. That's kinda why I dig the series.

Addendum: Stuff I am Probably Wrong About

Of course the other reason I'm so into the series is that I'm still holding onto this failing hope that Luce is actually going to turn out to be Satan. Because that would be the most awesome twist ending to a Young Adult Novel ever in the entire history of the universe. Bar nothing.

So very briefly, the bits of for-want-of-a-better-term-evidence that Luce might in fact be Beelzebub (these make very little sense if you haven't read the books):

1.In the battle at the end of Torment, the Angels seem to believe that Luce is in danger from the Starshots, which we also see are ineffective against humans (admittedly, this might be a stake-through-the-heart issue: sure they're not instantly fatal to humans, but they're still freaking arrows).
2.Daniel is clearly as wet as a sack of kippers, but apparently there's still something that could make him side with Hell, and it's pretty much inconceivable that this doesn't have something to do with Luce.
3.Come on, her name's freaking Luce.
4.The Angels of Neutrality seem to feel they can use Luce as a bargaining chip to get back into Heaven. I just can't quite work out how Random Mortal Chick #5 is going to help you get back in the good graces of the almighty.
5.That note that Molly passes her in the first book: could it be … foreshadowing?
6.… actually that's pretty much it.
7.But P.S. It would be awesome.

So yeah. So far I'm still very much into the series, which I think manages to be at once turned-up-to-eleven-breathless romance and (arguably) a surprisingly subtle deconstruction of the assumptions of the genre.


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Comments (go to latest)
Robinson L at 15:02 on 2011-01-24
Where Sword and Cross was ramped-up-to-eleven Gothic, Shoreline is ramped-up-to-eleven Cal-ee-for-nai-aye.

That sounds … interesting.

Nephilim (that's half-human-half-angel for the benefit of anybody that hasn't seen any of the many, many bits of recent pop culture that included the concept)

Okay, what does it say about me that I give you a fairly explanation for what a dhampir is and how you get one, along with more modern variations—but I've never heard of “Nephilim,” nor was I at all aware of such creatures manifesting in recent pop culture?

… actually, that's pretty much it.

I'm glad you and Shimmin reviewed Fallen, because while The TeXt Factor convinced me to read it, I know I won't get to it immediately, and for some reason an overview of the whole book provides more a sense of closure.

Here's looking forward to the books themselves ...
Dan H at 23:22 on 2011-01-25
Okay, what does it say about me that I give you a fairly explanation for what a dhampir is and how you get one, along with more modern variations—but I've never heard of “Nephilim,” nor was I at all aware of such creatures manifesting in recent pop culture?

You might have missed it, since it went out early, but Nephilim were a feature in Hush, Hush. They've also appeared in a lot of pesudobiblical YA stuff as a bunch of apocalyptic movies.
Wardog at 23:52 on 2011-01-26
Ooooh, and they're in the awesomely awful Hex.

Ah Michael Fassbinder, I can't believe you are so beautiful and had to be in Fable...
Shim at 09:10 on 2011-01-27
I just read the synopsis of that. Surely an evil plan for world domination that can be thwarted by proper use of contraceptives is a bit... flimsy? Unless the Buffy totally original protagonist is really really Catholic.
Dan H at 23:30 on 2011-01-30
I just read the synopsis of that. Surely an evil plan for world domination that can be thwarted by proper use of contraceptives is a bit... flimsy?

You could look at it that way. On the other hand, if I thought the only thing stopping evil from taking over the world was a bunch of horny teenagers remembering to practice safe sex, I'd be deeply worried.
I just got through the first three Fallen books, which is not something I would admit in any other setting, but you're right, this stuff is distressingly compelling. I'm not especially interested in the love affairs of eternally self-absorbed kids, but there's a lot of other good, fairly original stuff here, and I'd love to see what Lauren Kate can do when she isn't writing a girly romance.

Nevertheless, I've gotten sucked into the silly story and want to see how it ends. Like you, I was holding out for Luce to turn out to be Satan, but that seems less and less likely, and I have a feeling the ending is going to disappoint me no matter what.
Dan H at 20:02 on 2012-03-24
Yeah, the Luce-is-Satan interpretation is basically nixed by Passion in which Lucifer shows up as a character. I was a little bit unsure what to make of Passion, the world-hopping stuff was okay, but it felt that it undermined a lot of the interesting and vaguely deconstructive stuff that was in the first couple of books. I suspect I'll be disappointed by Rapture but you never know, it might surprise me.
I'm holding out a tiny bit of hope there'll be another twist on the revelation that Lucifer/Satan is in fact a flying gargoyle. That's just a little too on-the-nose for me. But not much hope.

The most worthwhile part of Passion, to me, is the explicit revelation that the angel/demon division is *actually* completely meaningless and arbitrary. You're a demon if you didn't pick God's side fast enough, or if the meeting ended before you had a chance to pick sides at all. Of course that's what the story has been getting at all along, but it's nice to have it out there. Obviously the narrative voice has been quite clear that, for example, Roland is no more demonic than Arriane, or Daniel particularly more angelic than Cam, who's kind of a gleeful asshole but doesn't seem to be doing anyone any actual harm.

None of that really makes up for the endless time-hopping, though. The Luce-and-Daniel retrospective idea was nice in theory, but in the end it bored the crap out of me and I just wanted to get back to the story.
Shim at 22:05 on 2012-03-24
I did in fact read both Torment and Passion, which were... honestly, I can only really say "okay" as far as I remember.

Partly this is my fault, since I'm far enough out of touch with pop culture that the Cal-ee-for-nai-aye stuff in Torment was recognisable rather than familiar, and I probably missed a lot of clever or interesting things that were going on there. The self-awareness was nice, though. I had my usual pernickity issue with Magical Schools but it came across as less preposterous than some others. Luce inevitably messes around with dangerous magic against everyone’s explicit advice but survives. There's at least one complete writing fail in Torment, where LK managed to confuse me enough with a bad description of angelic powers that I thought Miles was dead. That's a pretty big misunderstanding, to my mind. Otherwise, a reasonable read that I can’t remember too much about.

Passion was more of a problem for me, partly because Luce is willing to risk causing all kinds of problems for her previous selves to learn more about herself, and partly because the time-hopping was a bit awkward. She visits some non-Western selves, which is a nice thing but gets me back to thinking about how the baptism business in Fallen didn’t make any blooming sense. She manages to pass herself off as a servant despite a complete lack of experience of the job, ignorance of appropriate social behaviour (servants being notoriously hung up on this), ignorance of current affairs, and very probably being much too tall, much too well-fed, much too finicky about hygiene and not talking proper.

Mostly though, it's because the War in Heaven stuff still fails to make any sense to me, and that's awkward when it's the main plot of the series. At some point it turns out all the angels did in fact bluff their way into Sword & Cross purely to hang around Luce and Daniel, so they do have some kind of limited future-telling ability, but don’t seem to do much of any particular use with it. The angel-demon division seems about as arbitrary as you say, and there’s the big playground team-picking scene. Then it turns out that Oh Noes! Lucifer has the tremendous awesome plan of going back in time to just after they fell and transporting them all forward in time again so he can have another go at enlisting them all or something like that anyway, which is an absolutely fantastic strategy for getting the better of his opponent, (vaguely Catholic version of) God, that famously non-omniscient non-omnipotent entity who is in no way outside time and space oh wait. There’s the weird subcultures hanging around as well, the Nephilim and the blind assassin types with magic angel-killing bows (bows? in this day and age?) and stuff.

At the same time, I don’t remember anything which would make the baptism business or supernatural loopholery make any sense, or anything that explains why Miss Sophia would sacrifice Luce (or to whom) or expect anyone at all to approve of it. I still don’t know why, if she’s not Lucifer, she has magical powers. I don’t know why forcing Luce to die repeatedly and horribly would seem like a cool way to deal with the Daniel business, especially since the war is none of her business. Part of the problem is that I still haven’t got a handle on the theological setup LK is working off and I’m not convinced it’ll be coherent if I do ever find out.

Sorry, it's months since I read them so memory is a bit hazy.
the Cal-ee-for-nai-aye stuff in Torment was recognisable rather than familiar, and I probably missed a lot of clever or interesting things that were going on there.

I enjoy the little details whenever I notice them. The high school teachers in California like being called by their first names with no honorifics, which few Southern teachers would tolerate. The angel-types have to go to crazy lockup reform school in Georgia, but in California it's all good, dude, and they even get treated better than everyone else because they're rich (or make everyone think they're rich, as far as I can tell), which is what really matters.
Michal at 04:16 on 2012-03-25
Nephilim (that's half-human-half-angel for the benefit of anybody that hasn't seen any of the many, many bits of recent pop culture that included the concept).

Or, y'know, possibly read the bit of the book of Genesis that mentioned them. I'm actually kind of surprised that Nephilim have become a Thing now, however, since I only ever associated them with that bit from the Bible, and never really saw the word used anyplace else.

Over a year late, I know...
Wardog at 09:23 on 2012-03-26
Well, I don't think many of us are in the habit of casually dipping into The Bible for lulz - also I thought most of the Nephilim related stuff was in the Apocrypha?
Arthur B at 09:32 on 2012-03-26
Yeah, my understanding is that the Nephilim are, like, minor background characters in the Bible but people fleshed them out a lot in their fanfic (Apocrypha, Zecharia Sitchin's nonsense, etc.).
Wardog at 09:44 on 2012-03-26
Are you saying the Apocrypha are basically Bible fanfic? :D
Arthur B at 09:55 on 2012-03-26
Well, by definition they aren't canon. ;)
Shim at 10:49 on 2012-03-26
Must admit I'd never noticed the Nephilim before, but it's a fairly throwaway bit.

The Apocrypha are more like deleted scenes in the Protestant Director's Cut. As far as Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians are concerned they aren't any different from other bits of the Bible (although I believe the exact canon varies a bit).
Arthur B at 11:38 on 2012-03-26
I think there's apocrypha and apocrypha. Like there's stuff which only stuffy Protestants think is apocrypha but most other denominations are cool with, then there's stuff which a few Coptic off-shoots assert is canon but the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and other Coptic factions think is too nutty (I think the Book of Enoch is in this category), and then there's totally wild stuff which isn't taken as canon by any significant denomination, either due to them being lost for ages (Gospel of Thomas) or due to the doctrinal councils proclaiming them to be completely dicked in the nob (the gnostic and Sethian stuff, more or less all the apocalypses aside from John's).
Robinson L at 20:16 on 2012-03-31
I finished Passion the other week (man, I love audiobooks). Of the three, I think I liked Torment best, though I was ambivalent about the climax. The mythology in Fallen felt much too underdeveloped to me, and I felt like Torment went a long way towards correcting that.

Fallen also gave me the impression that the battle between heaven and hell in these books is a straight-forward good vs. evil story. Torment, on the other hand, gave us two teachers, one aligned with heaven and the other aligned with hell, who despite their profound ideological differences are in a caring and loving relationship, which I find simply adorable. Furthermore, it hinted that both sides might actually have legitimate grievances with the other, rather than the angels aligned with hell just being evil. (On which note, the demon characters in Passion offering help and encouragement really tickled me as well.)

I think Torment was my favorite in terms of building non-romantic friendships. There was some good friendship stuff in Fallen, but I think Kate did much, much better with Shelby and Miles in Torment. Among other things, I felt it was neat how she had Shelby and Luce connecting over mutual frustrations regarding Daniel, thus subverting the romance cliché of two women fighting over a man—even though she did then go ahead and say “See? This is me subverting this romance cliché right here.”

And I really liked that they took the trouble to investigate the still-living relatives of Luce's past incarnations—it's the sort of logical extension of a premise which most authors don't really delve into.

I was mostly okay with the time-hopping structure of Passion, but it didn't particularly enthrall me. I liked that Kate eventually acknowledged that not all Luce's incarnations throughout time have been Caucasian, and that she managed to find a somewhat decent escape clause to the “Luce's features are always the same” problem.

On the other hand, I was disappointed we got so little of Luce's friends and the other fallen angels. I was also disappointed that it appears Lucifer is a separate character than Luce, and seems to be pure evil, which somewhat undermines the complexity I thought was in the second book. I think book four may still save the series' morality, but I'm very concerned.

There were also two points about Torment which really, really disturbed me. First, the character of Lilith and the information that every single descendant of hers who carries her name inevitably turns evil at some point. Free will? Screw that, predestined to be evil, baby.

The second was that time in the Mayan village when Daniel killed off the entire village in order to save Luce's contemporary incarnation. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Overall, I'd concur with Shim's assessment of Torment and Passion as “okay” (it's also how I felt about Fallen). I fully expect Rapture to be about the same.
Ibmiller at 16:15 on 2012-10-09
Interesting, I just finished Rapture, having given Passion and Fallen In Love a miss. And it was...pretty much of a piece with the other books. I keep finding myself skipping through the bits where Luce goes Bella Swan gazing at Edward - actually, I skipped most of the parts with Daniel - and found the worldbuilding...interesting. I think I'm just not sure why these books tend to have such wet protagonists and such interesting secondary characters.
I keep finding myself skipping through the bits where Luce goes Bella Swan gazing at Edward - actually, I skipped most of the parts with Daniel

Same here. That shit was cute for about half a book. I think I skimmed through most of the last volume purely for the sake of finishing the thing.

Overall, the whole experience was pretty unsatisfying. I think it might broaden the horizons of the occasional twelve-year-old Twilight fan.
Shim at 16:58 on 2012-10-10
I feel so vindicated right now.
Ibmiller at 21:19 on 2012-10-10
Somewhat hilariously, I actually enjoy Twilight (while mostly skipping the parts where Bella does the Luce gazing at Daniel thing). So...take my dislike as you will? But I do think it has a bit of an edge over the Fallen books...if only the edge one of those little foil strips on plastic scissors has over a completely plastic pair of scissors. :)

I'm glad you feel vindicated, Shim. That's what I live for, after all. :)
Shim at 21:42 on 2012-10-10
I'm glad you feel vindicated, Shim. That's what I live for, after all. :)

Ibmiller, Vindicator.

At some point I might borrow Rapture off Dan or someone for completeness' sake, but then again I'm not really invested in the story any more. Some interesting ideas, just didn't really pan out for me or go in a direction that worked for me. Tragically, I could say the same for The Host but I dunno if that's a fair comparison.
Ibmiller at 21:48 on 2012-10-10
Welp...I liked The Host as if I liked that, and disliked probably will really hate Rapture? I dunno.
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