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Hidden Empire #1

Principles of Angels

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Khesh City floats above the surface of the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. Topside, it's extravagant, opulent, luxurious; the Undertow is dark, twisted and dangerous. A place where nothing is forbidden, Khesh City is also a democracy, of sorts, policed by the Angels—elite, state-sponsored killers who answer only to their enigmatic master, the Minister. Taro lived a privileged life with his Angel aunt until a strange man, who bought his body for the night, followed him home and murdered her. Taro wants to find the killer who ruined his future, but he's struggling just to survive in the brutal Undertow—then an encounter with the Minister sets him on a new course. Elarn Reen is a famous musician sent to Khesh City as the unwilling agent of mankind's oldest enemy, the Sidhe. To save her own life, she must find and kill a renegade Sidhe. As Taro and Elarn's paths converge, it becomes clear that the lives of everyone in Khesh City are at risk—and a common prostitute and an uncommon singer are the city's only chance.

304 pages, Paperback

First published June 1, 2008

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About the author

Jaine Fenn

38 books76 followers
Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it's also far harder to track down. Jaine Fenn has had numerous short stories professionally published, some of which appear in the collection 'Downside Girls' and has won the British Science Fiction Association Short Fiction award. Her Hidden Empire space opera sequence, published by Gollancz, starts with the novel 'Principles of Angels'. Her Shadowlands science fantasy duology is published by Angry Robot.

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5 stars
45 (16%)
4 stars
97 (36%)
3 stars
90 (33%)
2 stars
24 (8%)
1 star
11 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 42 reviews
Profile Image for Sarah Newton.
Author 32 books26 followers
November 14, 2012
Loved this book. Fenn writes a story that's universal - its science-fiction elements are cool, transhuman, edgy, but like all good sf her concern is to show how *different* human beings have become in this distant future. It's full of the unusual, the world depicted slightly out-of-kilter, garnished with an expert handling of language. As a linguist, I'm always sensitive to portrayals of slang, jargon, swearing, etc, and in that respect Principles of Angels is a delight - the street argot of the Downsiders flows naturally and credibly, and fits with the harsh life those people live.

The plot's a thriller, and compelling all the way, with a denouement that's both exciting and perfectly paced. I've had a lot of good reads spoiled by a rushed ending, and this novel doesn't do that - it takes its time wrapping up in a very satisfyingly novelistic way.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of Principles of Angels is the invisible infodump that Fenn manages all the way through. There didn't seem to be a moment when the plot was put on pause for a big chunk of background or explanation, but by the end I'd become familiar enough with Khesh and its society and history, and madly curious to know more about the universe and the back story with the Sidhe. Very smoothly done.

Looking forwards to the next!
Profile Image for Paul.
2,133 reviews
January 8, 2015
The alien city of Khesh is the only habitable part of the planet of Vellern. It is a city of two halves; the Topside is luxurious and peaceful part; the Undertow is dark, and full of danger. It is partly democratic, but is ruled by the Minister who exercise control with his Angels, an elite race of assassins.

Taro used to live in the privileged Topside, or did until a man who he had spent the night with followed hime home and killed his Aunt, an Angel. Now he is struggling to survive in the Undertow, but a chance meeting with the Minister, means he has a purpose once again. Elarn is a famous singer, but her visit to the city is really a mission to kill someone from her past.

As events in the city begin to escalate, the destinies of Elarn and Taro become intertwined and the fate of the city rests on they shoulders.

The city that Fenn has created is cohesive, whilst being very alien indeed, from the political elite that rule, to the dark and sordid underclass that have their own rules. Whilst it is a science fiction world, this city feels alive too as it pulses with the characters. On top of all this, the plot writhes and twists as the story rushes to its dramatic conclusion. Great stuff. Onto the next
Profile Image for Nancy.
932 reviews38 followers
August 5, 2017
I read 25% of the book....and could not take it anymore.
Sorry, this SF writer is not for me.
Fenn pales in comparison to Ursula Le Guin.
I'm moving on to James Tiptree jr pen name for
Alice Bradley Sheldon (1915-1987)
My search continues for ....great SF books!
Profile Image for Pauline Ross.
Author 10 books296 followers
September 15, 2011
I saw a review of a later book in the same 'Hidden Empires' series, and thought this was worth trying. Each book is an independent story, but they are all set in the same world/universe and later there is some overlap of characters. The genre is science fiction, but with a fantasy feel about it, at least for this book.

I have to admit to a certain ambivalence about this book. The setting - a decadent city with a violently seedy underworld, and a protagonist just barely surviving on the margins of society - is one that I normally avoid. I've put aside several highly rated books that zoomed in too quickly on torture or grim malevolence or piles of dismembered corpses. Life's too short to read such depressing stuff. But oddly, this one kept me turning the pages, almost despite myself, and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe because, despite the background, it's not really that grim. And another thing - why is it that, no matter how original the setting, somehow the society falls into traditional patterns? It would be refreshing for once to read about characters who get laid or stoned in safe, hygenic government-run facilities, while having to sneak around in dangerous back alleys dealing with crooks just to get themselves a wee dram. Anyway, on to the book.

The opening drew me in at once. Taro, one of the two main protagonists, is on the run, fearing for his life, in the (literal) underworld of the floating city he inhabits, since his aunt, an Angel, was killed two days before. Now the young man living off society's dregs is a dull cliche, and there's the usual heavy splattering of impenetrable jargon to wade through, but the half-Angel lineage is intriguing. Taro is a likeable character, a prostitute by choice, and charmingly well-meaning but naive, almost innocent, in many ways. Despite his best intentions, he gets himself into trouble at every turn.

The other main character, Elarn, is very different. She's also naive, and obviously forced into a horrible situation against her will, which should make her sympathetic. Instead, she's whiny and tearful and helpless and falls instantly in lurve and.... well, generally manages to be really, really irritating. If she were sixteen, this might be just about tolerable, but she appears to be much older than that (although her actual age is not mentioned, or else I missed it).

Some aspects of the book's world struck me as rather hard to believe. The attempted mugging of Elarn seemed quite implausible in a city which seems to depend for its livelihood on tourism - surely there would be some basic kind of security for arriving visitors, rather than a life-threatening encounter the instant she set foot in the city? And I found it hard to get a feel for the nuances of this society. Despite the dramatic opening with its underdog impression, within a few pages Taro is talking matter-of-factly with the Minister (presumably the equivalent of the Mayor). Later, he moves seamlessly among his gangland underworld, the high-ranking and respected Angels, and the city above, despite being effectively an outlaw. We are told repeatedly that his protected status lapsed when his aunt died, yet he moves insouciantly around the city, both above and below, without much difficulty, and seems constantly to land on his feet, whatever scrapes he gets into. But on the whole, the plot is easy to understand and free of unexplained coincidences.

The writing style is rather flat. Encounters which appear to be life-threatening actually have no tension at all. Only occasionally does the author manage to generate a crackle of real fear. But eventually, more than half way through, the story kicks into a higher gear, the stakes are ramped way up and things get nicely exciting. There's a little too much straight exposition here, and the point of view hops frenetically from one character to another, which I found distracting and a little difficult to follow, but nevertheless everything builds page-turningly to the dramatic finale. Some of the twists were predictable, and some were underwhelming, and there's an outbreak of over-wrought hyperbole near the end (although I understand the effect the author was attempting), but still the ride was fun.

For a debut, this was a competent effort, very readable and thoroughly enjoyable. I shall certainly be reading more in the series. Four stars.
Profile Image for Adam Whitehead.
552 reviews132 followers
April 16, 2017
Khesh City floats above the uninhabitable surface of the planet Vellern. It is a city of contrasts, with the rich and powerful living on the luxurious surface and the poor and downtrodden forced to live in the Undertow. The city is a democracy by assassination, where unpopular politicians can be removed by official killers known as Angels. When an Angel is brutally murdered, it falls to her nephew, Taro, to learn the reasons why.

Principles of Angels, the debut novel by Jaine Fenn and the first in her loosely-linked Hidden Empire sequence, is a far-future SF novel centred on two contrasting protagonists: Taro, a male prostitute trying to avenge his murdered aunt, and Elarn, a high-class singer who has been blackmailed into travelling to the city to commit a heinous crime. Taro lives in an underworld of crime and exploitation, but is idealistic, which leads him into becoming an agent for the Minister, the city's enigmatic ruler. Elarn is a more civilised character, out to do the right thing but trapped in a situation not of her own making, one which could have severe repercussions for the entire human race. Other major characters include the Minister himself, the Angel Nual and detective/info-broker Meraint. Fenn does an effective job of distinguishing and motivating these individuals, although the focus is firmly on the two main characters (who alternate POV chapters for much of the novel).

A thousand years before the events of the novel, mankind was ruled by an alien species, the Sidhe. Humanity broke free of their control and apparently destroyed them but, as the title of the series indicates, this may not be the case. Fenn does a good job of filling us in on this backstory by seeding the information into the text naturally, not relying on info-dumps. In doing so, she creates an intriguing universe which the reader definitely wants to see more of.

The plot unfolds at a good pace, helped by the book's relatively concise length (the novel is just over 300 pages long in paperback) which keeps events moving nicely. The writing is reasonable, though given the weird and unusual nature of the setting possibly a little too straightforward. Ultimately, events unfold in interesting enough a manner to make the sequels - Consorts of Heaven, Guardians of Paradise, Bringer of Light and Queen of Nowhere - appealing.

Principles of Angels (***½) is a decent debut novel, with well-drawn characters, a memorable setting and an interesting premise. The book suffers a little from too tight a focus on the two principals, which results in some of the more interesting side-cast being neglected, and also from a writing style that feels like it should have been bolder rather than settling for decent. It is still an entertaining book which effectively sets up a fascinating universe.
1,627 reviews18 followers
September 11, 2014
This story takes place on the planet Vellern, where people live high above the ground in a city called Khesh. The main protagonists are Elarn (a singer from Khathryn), Taro (a young man living with his aunt, who is an Angel),Nual (aka Lia) (an Angel- a government sanctioned political assassin) and the Minister (who runs the City). They encounter Scarrion (a brutal bodyguard), Salik Vidoran (a political official), Limnel (a crime boss), Solo (an alien who runs a bar), Meraint (a scrupulous information broker), as well as a host of lesser characters- all interesting. I liked that there wasn't a lot of tedious explanation and description- I learned about the city through the events that occurred and the reactions to those events.
Profile Image for Sarah.
275 reviews
March 9, 2014
I didn't finish this so should not really "count" it in my reads. It was a book group book and I decided quite early on that I did not like it, and so stopped. As sci fi goes I thought it was poor, I shall try another sci fi soon though.
Profile Image for Orson.
Author 4 books3 followers
November 23, 2013
I did not finish this book. It started out okay and then went downhill from there.
Profile Image for Michael Botterill.
72 reviews1 follower
May 7, 2017
It's a slightly slow start, but it's an excellent story, with an interesting use of language.

You get a lot of information about the city, but what I love is that at no point do you have a huge infodump, it comes quite naturally to you, which is the mark of a talented writer.

Well worth coming back to.
Profile Image for C.
100 reviews4 followers
May 5, 2018
Thought I'd reread a favourite Space Opera on my holidays this year.
Things I'd remembered. Knife fights and x-ray maser rifles. Politics by flying assasins, and a city laid radially by sin (I really want to see their zoning commission meetings).
Things I'd forgotten. The details of life in a gang in the undertow. It's really not a nice life down there!
April 1, 2020
I loved this book. Fell into a wonderful pit of compelling characters and mysterious plot. If you enjoy the world, I would thoroughly recommend the sequels - you'll learn more about the Angels and the mysterious, sinister Sidhe...
Profile Image for Kaine Beveridge.
28 reviews
July 12, 2017
Really solid piece of Sci-fi, good characters and interesting concepts. would always recommend.
Profile Image for John.
14 reviews
December 27, 2017
This is a well written book - at least as far as I've read - but I found it too brutal for my taste. I loved Consorts of Heaven and will certainly read some of her other books.
Profile Image for Mardel.
167 reviews7 followers
October 19, 2011
Thoroughly enjoyed this read. It's a nice blend of SciFi and fantasy.
Once I was able to concentrate solely on this novel, I found myself absorbed by it. The different characters had distinctly different voices. Jaine Fenn did a wonderful job of drawing these characters, making them stand out from each other. I also enjoyed the dialog (one of my pet peeves) - found each character's way of speech consistant and "fitting" each person. Written in third person - I also found the narration interesting and not once was I bored with info-dumps or huge chunks of explanations. There may have been a few things that seemed a bit involved, but I was able to keep reading and eventually understand what was happening, or understand the different levels of people/society. I think the author put a lot of thought into building her world and her different societies and fringe societies. I also enjoyed the way she let the reader learn little bits here and there without overwhelming me with too many details and long explanations.
As soon as I finished Principles of Angels (and of course when I had a few bucks in the bank) I ordered the second novel in this trilogy (or is it a four-bit now?). According to Fenn's website, the second book takes place at the same time as the first, though on a different planet. The third book has the characters of both first and second books coming together for a story. Looking forward to it.
Note, that if you're squeamish about prostitution or drug use, there is some of that going on. For me, that's not any worse than reading about murder and violence, though - so it doesn't bother me to read about, especially when it seems to be an accepted part of life in a story's society.
Very interesting read that has me wanting to read more. Just different enough to satisfy my SciFi cravings and Fantasy cravings at the same time.
Profile Image for Espana Sheriff.
30 reviews3 followers
February 17, 2013
The overall setting was pretty interesting, and worth exploring but curiously for a book set in a thousand-year old city full of ancient tech and related mysteries, it wasn't until the very end that the city itself felt real or alive to me, before that it suffered from being seen from the perspectives of the two POV characters, one of whom doesn't live in the city proper and the other is newly arrived and not particularly enamored with the place, the result felt a bit sketchy and superficial for such a potentially fascinating locale.

The main character of Taro was likable and believable despite his somewhat extreme situation, he managed to be reasonably competent in certain situations and out of his depth in others. The other POV character worked less well, since I personally found her unsympathetic and frustrating, and to be perfectly honest not all that bright.

The first two thirds of the book are spent with these two characters, so your enjoyment will depend on how you like them. In the last third the pace picks up and the action gets going, which makes things a lot more fun, there are some surprises (perhaps one too many, I'm still a bit confused as to how the first evil plot morphed into the second evil plot, but it doesn't matter all that much by the chase scene :) and all it all Fenn wraps up all the strands into a neat little bow while leaving the door open for the larger plot to continue on in the next book.
Profile Image for Gerhard.
1,053 reviews529 followers
July 21, 2013
When I saw Queen of Nowhere at a local bookshop, Fenn's latest, I was intrigued enough to track down the first instalment in the Hidden Empire sequence, having never read her before.

Women SF writers are particularly celebrated for creating some of the best novel series out there - one only has to think of Ursula K, LeGuin, C.J. Cherryh and Steph Swainston.

I practically gulped Principles of Angels down. It is a white-hot read, expertly paced, with a truly fascinating premise and set-up. Also, Fenn is an absolute master at world-building. She manages to avoid info-dumping, and expertly weaves in necessary detail and colour into the overall plot - but just enough to keep you asking questions. It is a delicate balance, and Fenn manages it with superb precision.

Equally, the characters are fascinating and complex. Taro is a young male prostitute; there is a very weird sex scene involving a significantly older woman that advances the plot not a single jot, but which makes for an intriguing insight into the mindset of such a particular professional ... All this is very Delany-esque, much in the vein of Nova, with a smidgeon of China Mieville (Perdido Street Station) and Alastair Reynolds (Terminal World).

My only gripe is the perfunctory ending; this is also one of the few books that I actually wished was longer. A superb introduction to what has the potential to be a fascinating SF novel series.
Profile Image for Raj.
1,391 reviews30 followers
March 6, 2016
I enjoyed Fenn's Downside Girls, the collection of short stories set in the Hidden Empires series, of which Principles of Angels is the first. This, however, didn't grab me a huge amount. The plot follows two main characters: Taro is the adopted son of the Angel Malia, who was murdered by the man who bought his body for the night; and Elern Reen is a musician who comes to Khesh City on behalf of a group that everyone thinks died out centuries ago to kill an Angel.

I found the book very slow to get started. The two strands are almost entirely separate until close to the end, when Taro and Elern finally meet, although their stories do overlap occasionally around the edges. I really wasn't hugely interested for a good chunk of the book, not finding it bad, it just didn't grab me. It got more exciting towards the end and there's a lot of good ideas in there, but it did feel a little like everything was thrown at the wall to see what would stick: floating city; divided society; state assassins; secret hidden enemies; aliens; and more that would constitute spoilers. I'm probably not going to bother too much in searching out more of the Hidden Empire books.

Profile Image for Erica Anderson.
Author 3 books17 followers
April 22, 2011
I have mixed feelings about this book. There was a lot to enjoy--some really interesting ideas, good characterization of the protagonist, well-drawn setting. But several things weren't explained sufficiently to satisfy me. For example, there is a character called the "Screamer", but it isn't until the last quarter of the book that the name is explained. Similarly, the setting is a 'democracy by assassination.' This is a fascinating concept, but I wanted to know much more about it and the author didn't deliver.

On the positive side, the main character, a young male prostitute named Taro, is sympathetic and well-done. When I first began reading, I couldn't imagine that I'd find the character interesting or relatable, but Fenn writes him as an affecting mixture of strength and vulnerability and goodness. I liked him.

Even so, I found the instantaneous attraction that develops between him and another major character to be difficult to believe. Too sudden for me.

While this is a mixed review, I'd still recommend that you give this book a try. It's well-written, the characters are interesting, the setting is original, and the plot is fast-paced.
Profile Image for Andreea Pausan.
574 reviews5 followers
September 23, 2014
Very interesting construction. On Kesh, a city suspended above an inhabitable planet, you have citizens, living topside and outcasts, making a dangerous and precarious living in maze stretched under the city disk. Kesh is a city where 3 races rule through Concord, a special form of politics enforced by sanctioned murder. The hunts and public executions, highly attractive for tourists from all over the Galaxy, are carried our by Angels, ruthless assassins who everybody looks up to. Taro is a prostitute who lived with his Angel aunt. After her death, alone and frightened, he finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy which threatens the entire city of Kesh, its Angels and its secrets. It was pretty difficult a reading in the beginning, as I had to imagine a people living on the backside of an inverted saucer, hanging by threads like awkward spiders. More that that, Taro, although not a complicated character, is flawed and scared and everything he does ends in disaster. The writing is interesting enough so I kept going. It was well worth it.
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,255 reviews630 followers
July 23, 2014
Fast sf adventure in an orbital city where official assassination by public vote keeps politicians on their toes.

But Kheesh City has many mysteries and when an Underworld urchin loses his Angel aunt - Angels are mostly female state assassins that have implants allowing them to fly - to an offworld Screamer - those are assassins from an allied/rival orbital city that can kill with their voice - and when a classical singer from a theocratic backwater visits Keesh ostensibly for a tour, age old secrets are revealed and threaten the very existence of Kheesh.

Fresh voice, excellent pacing and a very satisfying ending made this book a fast page turner for me. I hope the adventures of our heroes will continue in more volumes.
Profile Image for Adrian Leaf.
107 reviews1 follower
December 17, 2013
A distant future Sci Fi thriller set on a floating city with an unusual and twisted political set up. Far from being Hard Sci Fi, it is more interested in the characters and morally grey areas than huge mind expanding concepts. A rather strange world is set up in this book, and an intriguing universe, it is almost 'New Weird' in style and feel. At first it seems a bit on the nose and cliched, what with the ruling elite living high in the city in opulence and the poor literally shovelling shit in the underside. But it's so strange it feels fresh, the characters are well drawn and the mystery keeps you guessing with some genuinely surprising twists, I look forward to reading the next book set in this universe.
Profile Image for Hazel.
98 reviews7 followers
October 21, 2015
I wanted to get excited but I just couldn't. I thought the world building was impressive and original and I liked the pace of the book, but, I couldn't engage with the characters. If they were not having this adventure they were not people I would want to read about. Taro had a privileged background and chose to become a hooker, and for some reason drops his H's and says aint a lot which really bugged me. I really wished they had signposts in the Undertow. Elarn was naive and there was a scene where she goes to a play rehearsal and asks her lover to Disappointing.
Profile Image for Marie.
138 reviews3 followers
August 8, 2013
At some point in this book my brain went kind of offline, because I couldn't understand the descriptions of the locales. I think it was because I had just finished reading Gravity by Tess Gerritsen; the writing in that book is very clear and sharp, almost clinical; in Principles of Angels, the feeling of the writing is very ephemeral, and floaty.

I don't think that's a bad thing, though.

The storyline itself was very interesting, though, and I like the presentation of the Angels. I had the feeling that I was reading a book that was a part of a series, or a set of books written from an established world. However, I did get into it a lot, and I would read more from this author.
Profile Image for Daphne.
991 reviews47 followers
July 29, 2015
I'm honestly not sure what to make of this book. It wasn't bad but it also wasn't very engaging. I kept losing interest and it was hard to keep reading at times.

Principles of Angels had some very interesting worldbuilding ideas and was very good at some points but it was also confusing at other times. A lot of the fictional terms used in the book were barely explained and even near the end I wasn't sure what some of them meant. While I liked Taro a lot and rooted for him through the story, I'm just not sure what to make of the plot. I also had a hard time picturing the City and how things were connected.
Profile Image for Guy Robinson.
45 reviews
February 6, 2011
Starting from the shanty town built on the underside of the floating Khesh City, Taro is forced to confront the inner workings of a city that excluded him and where he has always had very little choice of what he can sell in order to stay alive.

This book features "democracy by assassination", a complex and layered city with cultural as well as political needs and a window onto the wider universe that features in books by Jaine Fenn.
Profile Image for Pippa Jay.
Author 22 books209 followers
August 24, 2011
I loved the world-building in this although it came a little too much and too fast at the start. A touch of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere thrust into space, with the not-so-fairytale Sidhe lurking behind the exterior of an artificial city, where Angels are agents of death rather than mercy and you show your true colours in your hair. Some wonderful descriptions in this with a handful of tortured characters to explore.
Profile Image for Jay.
7 reviews
September 13, 2011
Obviously a well thought-out setting but somehow I never got the feeling of it actually being alive - the few main characters could be the only people in the world for all I could tell. The plot moved so slowly I was a good two-thirds of the way through the book before I realised I wasn't still reading the prologue. Characters two-dimensional at best, prose undescriptive and failed to convey emotion. Altogether a few interesting ideas but otherwise nothing special.
Profile Image for Mark Cheverton.
76 reviews25 followers
May 10, 2012
A solid adventure novel, interweaving the characters nicely towards a satisfying climax. If it did have a weakness I'd say that the main characters rapid slip into doe eyed love with its attendant blindness to the obvious was annoying. However, the other key characters were well drawn and believable.

However, I think it will be a book I will forget quite quickly. I certainly enjoyed reading it, but was left with the feeling that it didn't really do anything new.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 42 reviews

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