Danielle Trussoni and her novel’s main character, Evangeline, both had their lives changed by angels and convents.
In Trussoni’s case, she was doing research at a convent in her home state of Wisconsin when she stumbled on angel lore so compelling that the celestial beings became the centerpiece of “Angelology,” which was released last month to glowing reviews.
“I wanted the book to be partially set in a convent, but I hadn’t really thought of the angel connection,” she recalled.
“But that convent where I was doing my research specializes in studying angels, and their library was full of fascinating things. So that research really propelled the book in that direction.”
In the novel, 23-year-old Sister Evangeline lives and works at the fictitious St. Rose Convent (which, like its counterpart, has a keen interest in angels), in the real-life Hudson River Valley town of Milton, in upstate New York.
As part of her work in the convent library, Evangeline receives a letter from Verlaine, a man researching a World War II-era connection between a former abbess at the convent and New York socialite- philanthropist Abby Rockefeller.
The search for answers to his questions leads both Evangeline and Verlaine into all sorts of intrigue and danger involving the Nephilim, an ancient race of tall, blonde, half-angel, half-human beings who are briefly mentioned in Genesis.
Trussoni’s characters aren’t the harp-wielding, benevolent beings of a Christmas card or carol, however — her Nephilim, whose numbers are decreasing due to a mysterious wing-debilitating disease, are more akin to the fallen angels of Lucifer’s ilk: beautiful but nasty, compassionless, utterly scornful of humans and their trifling concerns.
The book traipses headlong through New York, Paris and the remote reaches of the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria, site of the Devil’s Throat Cavern, where Lucifer and his buddies allegedly fell — i.e., hell itself.
“Angelology” is Dan Brownesque in its melding of history, fantasy and fast-paced adventure, but critics have heaped adoring praise on Trussoni’s prose (unlike Brown’s); Susann Cokal’s review in The New York Times Book Review won the coveted cover spot.
Trussoni, 36, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, has also written a memoir, “Falling Through the Earth.” That book was on the New York Times’ list of 10 Best Books of 2006.
“I’m more inclined toward fiction,” she says, “but that story,” about her relationship with her father, “could only be told as memoir. I think a good author knows the form a story needs to take.”
She says her new book works because she grounds the supernatural elements with well-researched history and tells the story in a naturalistic way that lends plausibility.
“I sort of took the archetype of angels and turned it on its head. They’re so gorgeous and seductive, but they’re also very dark.” Also, she says, “I think the religious aspects are very respectfully done. I haven’t had a lot of people object to anything.”
The film rights to “Angelology” have been bought by Will Smith (who will produce, not star), and Trussoni has started working on a sequel, “Angelopolis,” which will continue Evangeline and Verlaine’s story in Paris.