In The End by Alexandra Rowland qualifies as one of my surprise reading joys of the summer of 2018. As in the best of serendipitous encounters, I came upon it completely by accident while putting together the foundational precepts for DreamForge Magazine.
As we started talking about the positive, hopeful vibe we envisioned for our new science and fantasy fiction magazine, someone said “that sounds a bit like hopepunk.”
“And what, pray tell, dost thou speak of, this hopepunk?” we asked. (Yeah, we’re super geeks, OK, move on…)
Hopepunk, it turns out is the crystallization and definition of an approach to both life and the genre fiction we love in which, as Alexandra puts it, “It’s about DEMANDING a better, kinder world, and truly believing that we can get there if we care about each other as hard as we possibly can.” You can (should) read Alexandra’s Tumbler post on hopepunk at this Extravagant & Unlikely link. As best we know, it represents the origin of the term itself.
While we make no claim that DreamForge is hopepunk, we have a great deal of sympathy in that direction, so it seemed a logical next step to read some of Alexandra’s fiction and see if the values she expressed in that Tumblr post were reflected in the pages of her work.
Lucien and Lalael
Thinking of In The End as a typical End Times novel would be a big mistake. Yes, there is Heaven and Hell, the Rapture, and the big Apocalyptic Battle at the end of days, but the book is no more about those things than Gulliver’s Travels is about the war between Lilliput and Blefuscu.
Enter Lucien and Lalael.
Lucien is a fallen angel, kind of a scout from hell living in a small apartment with his cat, an aptly named feline answering to Antichrist.
Lalael is a soldier in Archangel Michael’s avenging army when it pours from the gates of heaven (Reil) to counter the demonic invasion emerging from the underworld of Reilat.
As no doubt happens in wars everywhere from time to time, Lucien and Lalael find themselves pitted against one another at the edge of the great battle, but too exhausted and beaten about to expend lethal energy. While Lalael tries valiantly to oppose a creature he sees as his eternally sworn enemy, the fallen Lucien is having none of it.
“Come on. I’m getting less and less interested in killing you with every sab and punch you throw at me,” says Lucien. As they fight, it becomes apparent to Lucien that Lalael is not an effective soldier and all the angel’s venom sounds more like political brainwashing than genuine battle rage.
By the time Lalael exhausts himself against Lucien’s easy defenses, the armies of light and dark have left the field, leaving the two opposing angels alone in a world they assume will soon face utter destruction.
Except the big, final, dramatic end never comes. Survivors of the Apocalypse everywhere come crawling up out of the rubble to make new lives for themselves, and Lucien and Lalael, for all their other-worldly origins, are in the same boat.
At first, Lalael is terribly suspicious of his fallen benefactor, even though Lucien heals the angel’s wing and takes him back to his apartment to rest. In time, however, circumstances force Lalael to lose his homicidal edge, and the two become uneasy partners, then friends deeply reliant on one another for survival and support.
Moral Angels and Immoral Realms
I don’t know if Alexandra is familiar with Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society, but I see some of that early 20th Century theologian’s ideas reflected here, perhaps instinctively. According to Niebuhr, individuals often act toward one another in more empathetic and caring ways than groups and societies are capable of.
“Individual men… are endowed by nature with a measure of sympathy and consideration for their kind. Their rational faculty prompts them to a sense of justice. But all these achievements are more difficult, if not impossible, for human societies and social groups.”
Something happens when we organize into groups that sets us on the path of right vs. left and good vs. evil, as well as engendering a bureaucratic callousness that must inevitably result in social conflict. It’s collective power that’s the issue, creating a kind of tribal madness that dehumanizes, or worse, demonizes the other side.
The one thing that Alexandra does not do is demonize. Her actual demons come across as nothing more than dangerous, if non-corporeal animals, and when the novel’s bad guy enters the scene – an angel named Jocelin – it is apparent the newcomer is quite mad, driven by warped perceptions that put our protagonistic duo in grave danger.
Wicked Fun to Read
What I’m leaving out is that In The End is a breezy, snarky, fun work to read. The exchanges between Lucien and Lalael tread the gamut from funny and compelling to engaging and touching.
I can’t think of anything I’ve read recently where I so looked forward to the conversations. Bit by bit, they break down the preconceptions of these two supernatural beings who have been told eternally they must be enemies, until they have no choice but to realize the depth of their brotherhood, their mutual reliance, and yes, their love both for one another and for the struggling human race which is slowly turning toward them for guidance and security.
So, is this hopepunk? I don’t know if Alexandra had that in mind when she self-published this work in 2012, but you certainly see the foundations of her plea for a more humane way of dealing with one another in these pages.
I think you’ll also see the beginnings of a brilliant career.
While we look forward to the release of Ms. Rowland’s A Conspiracy of Truths, coming out this fall from Saga Press, do yourself a favor and go to Amazon where you can grace your Kindle with a copy of In The End.
Of one thing, I’m certain, if all the mighty Powers at last decide we must take sides in some cataclysmic mutual annihilation, I know where I want to be… off somewhere sharing a bacon sandwich with Lucien and Lalael.