In an epic feat of world-building, the author delicately balances action with herculean amounts of exposition. While some of the large swaths of information, covering angels, demons, elementals, and souls, can be overwhelming, bogging down the narrative flow, Colwell takes exceptional effort to ensure readers are fully immersed in Sera and her journey, even when the story meanders. Interactions in the Summerlands and some situations -- telepathically chatting over ice cream with an elder in the form of an Earth-plane dog, for example -- may come across to some readers as over the top, though it’s just that embrace of possibilities that marks the boundaries among the realms.
One of the most appealing aspects of the novel, aside from its beautifully rendered expressions of emotion, is the unique blend of science fiction and somewhat simplistic metaphysics combined with the relatable psychology of a person rediscovering and exploring their own identity. That, in conjunction with the artfully sketched cast of secondary characters, helps create the start of a series as endearing as it is thoughtful. Cleverly added musical and pop culture references also add a pop of surprise delight.
Takeaway: This debut novel, first in a planned series, offers an engaging blend of science-fiction, metaphysics and fantasy centered around the exploration of self.
Great for fans of: Devon Monk’s Ordinary Magic series, Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: C
The Summerlands is Harry Potter good! Susan Butler Colwell, you just handed J.K. Rowling your beer.
Worth reading 😎
Captivating original story with twists, turns, romance, and a celestial mystery sprinkled in.
The Summerlands is the first novel in the Angels & Elementals series by Susan Butler Colwell is well worth reading. Coming in at 280 pages, this novel packs in terrific world-building, lore, romance, and mystery. Susan Butler Colwell brings together archangels, demons, souls, elementals, and other mythology in an original way that keeps the reader engaged. Of course, when the book starts out with this opening paragraph you know you have started reading something good:
The last time I died, it was a Tuesday. Don't ask me how I know that. It's just stuck in my brain as a cold, hard fact. Well... that and the slightly more troubling realization that I took the guy who's in charge of all evil as a mate. But I digress.
Seraphina is an elemental; half-human and half-celestial. She's one of four gatekeepers of the Earthly plane. She's just been killed by Morgana, and woken up in the Summerlands, her home plane. She's setting up the plan for her next reincarnation. The problem is, she can't remember her last life, nor why she spend 30 years as the mate to Mortegol and why she had chosen him over her archangel mate, Michael. The problem is, as an elemental, she won't know anything about who she really is for the first 21 years of her life, and the mystery of her 3 decades in the Underworld is haunting her.
Most of the novel is spent following Sera as she awakens and learns of her true identity. This allows for great world-building as the reader learns more about the Angels & Elemental's world as Sera remembers. While I felt some parts of the book were slower, I recognize that this is the first novel in a series and I surely will appreciate the time spent understanding this complicated universe built by Susan Butler Colwell. Sera is a well-built character; she's strong and confident. I wish that more time was spent exploring her relationship with Michael, in a more steamy way. But other than that, Sera, Michael, and the rest of the soul clan are well thought out and their actions throughout the plot are aligned with their character.
The plot of The Summerlands plays out well and does not feel rushed. Sera does not find out who she is and is immediately 100%. The awakening takes time and is realistic. The big events of the novel come closer to the end of the book when Sera understands more about herself. There are many twists and turns in the novel that were not expected and the twist at the end I did not see coming at all. Overall, The Summerlands and Sera's story are well worth reading and I'll be waiting for the sequel to be released. I'm hoping the next book is focused on one of the archangel's POV. *crossing fingers*