In the Beginning by John J. Higgins. My rating: 4 of 5 stars.
“Before there was a universe, a spirit existed, without form or limit, unrestricted by beginning or end. Nameless, the Being was composed of all the energy, matter and substance that would become the Universes, known and unknown, and all lesser life and spirit forms.”
Well, this was interesting! Before I get into it, I should give a brief summary.
The story opens with an Archangel, Jarahmael, searching for a missing human named Lilith, establishing the main problem that the story will deal with. We follow the story through the creation of the universe and meet the other Archangels working under God, such as Michael, Luciferael, and Beelzaebel (99% sure I spelled that wrong). Higgins establishes that there are different orders of angels working under the Almighty as we follow the beginning of the universe and the Earth. When the Almighty starts working on an experiment with Humans, though, we see how we got to Jarahmael searching for Lilith. Meanwhile, the angel Luciferael has his own plans to overthrow the Almighty, as He gets more into the human experiment, and Luciferael wants to kidnap Lilith to try to work toward destroying the human experiment. Can Jarahmael get to her first before she comes to any harm?
I admit, I’m not the most religious person. I finally received my sacraments just last year at twenty years old and, while I believe in God, what I believe Him to be is a little bit different from what the average Christian may believe. That being said, I was excited to see what Higgins was going to do with this type of setup, and he takes full advantage of it, almost seamlessly tying his own narrative into the overall creation story of Christianity.
The worldbuilding of this book is very, very strong. At first, I admit, I was confused with the creation of Lilith, but as the story went on, I started to understand what Higgins was doing by showing how it didn’t work with her as Adam’s original mate. Creating Eve because it didn’t work out between Adam and Lilith was a great way to showcase one specific flaw of humans: misogyny. I love that this book addressed that in full and Adam learned from his mistakes. I was afraid, when it came to light, that Higgins would avoid addressing it, but I love that Adam’s mistakes and flaws tied into the creation of Eve.
“‘I can change my Lord! I will do whatever you tell me to get her back,’ Adam pleaded.
‘It is too late for that, Adam, I am afraid. She is gone and will not be coming back to you.’
Adam’s body bent forward when he heard the Almighty’s announcement. ‘But now I will be all alone here in Eden, my Lord. What will I do?’
‘Do you promise to treat your mate better and more as an equal?’
‘Yes! Yes! I will. I promise that I will treat her as an equal and will not tell her lies that You have put me in charge of her,’ Adam said, feeling encouraged that he may not remain alone.”
On Lilith’s side, it was great to see her fully come to the realization of what she wanted and how she planned to go about it. She was wonderfully independent and knew how to approach taking command of her own life. I loved the idea of her falling in love with Archangel Jarahmael and trying to contemplate the consequences of such a love. Presenting her with that problem, even before she left Eden, showed that she had awesome self-awareness, even when she didn’t fully understand how to tackle such an issue.
“Lilith walked into the woods, thinking about her encounter with Jarahmael. He was the second Archangel she had met but there was something more magnetic about him than the Archangel Michael. She had never felt that level of attraction for Adam, and although he was of her own kind, this Archangel brought her alive on a more intense level.”
Now, I should discuss some of the Archangels before moving on.
The first one I want to discuss is Luciferael. He is really the main antagonist of the story, driven by a disturbing degree of self-importance and vanity to interfere with God’s ultimate plan. I love how his vain nature is captured through him enjoying looking at his own reflection in mirrors. It’s such a simple way to show that he puts himself first and makes it pretty easy to see how he eventually goes down the path of corruption.
Higgins shows Luciferael’s power and desire for more of that power in a couple of ways. Probably one of the strongest indications of the angel’s influence is the creation of his Auxilium of loyal followers, who mainly serve the purpose (in a character sense) of feeding that lust for power Luciferael has. Seeing this Auxilium drive Luciferael’s interference in God’s plan is incredibly disturbing and worrying, because by that point, Higgins makes the direction of the story fairly clear.
Now, that may seem like a bad thing, but here it is actually an advantage, because we see how the main antagonist slowly turns against God in by turns bigger and more daring ways. And it’s agonizing. One of the best things an author of a series could do is tell a complete story in one book, but also leave subtle hints of what is to come later on in the overall story they are telling through multiple books. And Luciferael is one big red flag that shows at least some of the direction of the later story, through some of the subtlest and other, more obvious (i.e. his name) hints. We may not know exactly how it will all go down, but it is something to wait in anticipation for.
“I will have to develop my creation skills better, he thought to himself. Sure, his own creations were more colorful and better armored with their colored scales, but Eve was a far more beautiful creation. The thoughts disturbed him and he rapidly changed his thinking. The Almighty already had his dinosaurs and reptiles to consider and use as a base when He created these Humans, so of course they would be more beautiful! Maybe he, Luciferael, should make creatures even more wonderful than the Humans, now that he had seen them and could adapt to improve their form!”
Now that that’s covered, I should move on to Jarahmael.
Right off, I actually really liked him. I love that he is willing to work for the Almighty, but also has the ability and willingness to think through certain problems that arise. I enjoyed seeing him work with the other Archangels and eventually search for Lilith, while also having at least some idea of Luciferael’s ideas and plans, while still not fully knowing exactly what to expect. I also loved that he was able to acknowledge and examine his own feelings for Lilith and consider the consequences of such feelings. The fact that he was able to make the distinction between his love for the other angels and his love for Lilith showed a good deal of maturity while also acknowledging the significance of both types of love.
That being said, I do wish we had seen a little bit more of who he was when he wasn’t really working or with Lilith. I don’t think he was rounded enough for me to really get into who he was as a character, as much as I liked him. Given that this is a series, I imagine Higgins will show more of who he is in later books, maybe give him another character arc, or something like that, but there could have been a little bit more to him shown here, given that it’s the first book.
“Grabbing the third of the Archangels created after him, Luciferael looked into another set of dark blue eyes, this one with dark brown hair. Deep blue feathers covered his wingtips over his shoulders. Luciferael watched life come into those eyes as he breathed into his nostrils. Luciferael smiled and realized that he was enjoying this power to create life. This new Angel had an independent look in his eyes as the life flooded into him. Different from the others, Luciferael noted a greater depth of awareness in this one. He paused before naming him as he had a peculiar feeling that this one could see into his mind. Luciferael then announced ‘You shall be known as Jarahmael, the secrets of the Almighty.’”
I also want to give mention to the Almighty as a character. Now, I liked what Higgins did with Him, keeping His actions out in the open but not really saying what His motivations for those actions were. Much like we don’t fully understand the nature of a force such as God, the Angels and Humans in the story never really fully get what He is trying to do. And Higgins even uses this to fuel Luciferael’s rebellion, which is really nice to see. This idea could open a lot of interesting discussions. How much should we know? Are we entitled, as humans, to know everything that is in store for us? How far is too far in the pursuit of knowledge? At what point do Humans cross the line in pursuit of knowledge?
“The Almighty’s presence in the Throne Room was always magnificent: bliss would flow from the center of his Being into each and every one of the assembled Angels, equal in warmth and love whether the Angel was a Guardian Angel, Archangel, or Seraphim. Distance from the Throne meant nothing, and each and every Angel felt directly connected with the Almighty.”
You could even say that such questions apply to the Archangels, too. For example, why would the Almighty keep certain things from them? What exactly are they allowed to know? How far is too far in knowing what He knows?
These questions all add a certain humanity to the Angels while also opening up said discussions about humanity and our purpose (or if we even have one).
I don’t really have too many negatives about this story, but I do want to address something that I think is worthy to think about.
Now, the way Higgins set up this story is fine. It follows a clear layout and goes through events accordingly, with the rules of the Archangels made up according to what the author wants and it’s all tied together nicely. That being said, I kind of wish Higgins had made Jarahmael’s and Luciferael’s goals a bit more clear-cut. What I mean by this is I wish he had established some sort of consistent reminder that Lilith would go missing and why Jarahmael had to find her, going a little more into exactly what her going missing would mean. This was done in the first chapter, but after that, it’s not really even hinted at until much later, making the goal of the story a little unclear at times because Higgins is trying to do so much at once. Luciferael’s goals hinge on events, meaning he changes his mind very often and his desire to find Lilith before anyone else does is a little shaky. The hatred of the humans made me wonder why he didn’t try to go after Adam and Eve, too, when he was willing to destroy his own creation of the dinosaurs in the same vein. You can have the creation of the universe, the fall of the dinosaurs, and the creation of the humans, but if the factors that connect them all aren’t brought up, it can make you wonder about why said information is even being established.
Following both the Archangels and the Humans all throughout the story is set up in such a way so that we know how we got to where they are at the end, but unfortunately because of that, the ending is a little underwhelming. I remember thinking how, when Lilith was found, Luciferael would surely kidnap her at any time, right? But after she was found, nothing of significance happened with her. I imagine Higgins is saving that for a later book, but at the very least, I wish we’d gotten some hint of her actually being in danger.
All that said, I really did enjoy this story. I think Higgins has put together a very interesting concept and, in my opinion, it is definitely not a story to miss out on.