Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.75 stars
Narrator: Kirt Graves
Length: 9 hours, 42 minutes
Sacrifice is the second book in a six-book series where each installment (or scroll) is a continuation of a story following the same main characters. It is not a standalone, and this review contains some spoilers for Revelations.
In the month since Riley’s heavenly powers were discovered, Riley has actually been living a pretty normal life. He’s acquired a new friend and a smart phone (learning the fun of emojis), and threats (human or supernatural) have been absent; as Christmas break approaches, his major concern is doing well on his final exams. Now living with his Guardians, Riley fully embraces them as his family and center of his world—learning about his angel heritage; watching movies; training with them daily to strengthen his mental, physical, and metaphysical control; and planning his first Christmas celebration. With the affection, comfort, security, and normalcy his Guardians provide, Riley’s also slowly dismantling Ms. Janet’s indoctrination and punishing himself less for perceived wrongdoings—a blessing since all this freedom from fear and anxiety has left plenty of mental space for Riley to obsess about reflect on his growing attraction for his angels. Jai and Noel’s free-flowing affection and hugs, and Gideon’s treasured praise and rare smiles light up Riley’s heart, and every day he uncovers a new layer of physical awareness and desire. Having never been attracted to anyone before and now only to his Guardians, Riley cycles between confusion, guilt, frustration, and unwarranted possessiveness.
Unbeknownst to Riley, Jai and Noel are trapped in a similar cycle, but in place of confusion is the bone deep knowledge of the illicitness of their desire—a desire that if acted upon could make them anathema in the eyes of their fellow angels and their ruling body, the Council, who have been keeping a more watchful eye on Gideon and his Secondaries. The extra scrutiny adds to Gideon’s unease and tension, but between the decades of Nephilim abductions, Riley’s suspiciously missing genealogy records, and his cherubic ally, Xavier’s, interest in the sacred scrolls, Gideon’s not sure who he can trust. As tensions within their “fucked-up family” explode into chaos, the inherent threat the Council’s poses is only surpassed by the danger Riley and his Others’ devolving restraint on their emotions places them in. When sacrifice becomes the only way to save their fractured family, Riley must dig deep, stand up for himself and his angels, and face the darkness he fears will consume everything he cherishes, including his soul.
As scroll two of six and basically a snapshot of a short span of time in the development of the characters and their relationships, Sacrifice earns the subtitle ‘Hormonal, Hot Mess Dumpster Fire: When Angels Go Wild.’ Like Revelation, it’s still a character-driven story, but with Riley having 24/7 access to his angels during their emotional crises, his perspective includes more sides to the Guardians’ personalities and their own fallibilities…and boy are they fallible. With the central conflict being the impossibility of the youngins’ intimate feelings and Riley being better protected (theoretically), there’s less damseling and action in the story. For the most part, the biggest danger to Riley is Noel and Jai. They’ve either never had to deal with such deep, emotional conflict or they’ve handled it this poorly in the past. Either way Jai and Noel suck at emotional maturity and the fallout from their behavior runs the gamut from WTH to demotion to meter maid imminent.
Sacrifice’s prologue picks up after Gideon leaves to meet his Fallen contact, Tabitha, with the POV shifting from Gideon to Noel. After relaying the information he received from Tabitha, Gideon addresses his most pressing concern—the way Jai and Noel dote on Riley and the need for better boundaries between them all. Initially hurt and affronted by Gideon’s implication that his Secondaries want to bone their ward, Noel reluctantly admits that their attachment to Riley is deeper and more personal than normal, but he’s still hopeful that Riley’s incorporation into the family won’t make waves. After all, “they [are] the strongest Guardian team in a hundred years. What could one little Nephilim do in the face of that?”
Apparently their twinky, innocent Nephilim’s presence can do A LOT in a month’s time. While Riley’s late-onset teenage angst stage is expected, I never thought to see it in centuries-old angels, and it is a gloriously painful train wreck. Riley is still Riley, so sweet summer child that he is, he has no idea when people are interested in him romantically, but Jai and Noel are very much aware and try to internalize the unfamiliar jealously and powerful attraction to their ward. Having grown emotionally distant in some ways, neither Other thinks to confide in his pair, instead channeling their angel angst into ways similar to their natures—Noel tries to be positive and encouraging to Riley while giving in to his self-destructive side and returning to an abusive partner, and Jai, already hurt and pissed by Noel’s actions, doubles down on his aggressive, impulsiveness and lashes out…mostly at Riley.
But Riley trusts his Others’ care for him implicitly and has gotten much better at not taking their (mostly Jai’s) shit. He may still get upset and cry, but he calls them on it and eventually exposes their truths. As Gideon is preoccupied with figuring out Riley’s lineage to better understand the demonic and heavenly interest in his ward and keep him safe, he ends up one the receiving end of a lot of Riley’s tears, constantly asking “what happened” and being infuriated with and disappointed in his Secondaries. Still, I honestly have no idea how Gideon wasn’t drowned beneath the rising tide of hormones and subsequent fuckery that overwhelmed their household in a matter of days. I was actually almost relieved when the baddies showed up…until I wasn’t. While the Other pair did need a come to Jesus talk about letting their feelings interfere with their duties, the punishment is brutal.
There’s some serious consequences and revelations for everyone, and all the book’s rising tension, upheaval, and emotional explosions are handled deftly by narrator Kirt Graves. I’m once again delighted by how well Graves conveys the duality of many of Riley’s emotions—from deferent defiance and shy boldness to timid bravery, Graves nails them all. Riley’s voice requires a skilled touch to portray the character’s smothered, but burgeoning personality, as well as make his continued struggles with self-worth and insecurity relatable and sympathetic. Although Riley is the most complex to voice, Graves gives all the characters the same attention, managing to express major aspects of their personalities that the text gives or implies in their voices. I’ve gotten quite used to Gideon’s calm, deliberate tone that only gives the barest hint of deeper feelings (even when upset or shaken), so hearing Graves lean in to Gideon’s increasing sass, frustration, and then explosion of temper is an audio highlight for me.
Though not quite what I expected, Sacrifice is a compelling story that strapped me into the emotional roller-coaster the characters are riding, making me want to hug, smack, maim, and sob all over them from one moment to the next. As the Guardians have said many times, they’re imperfect parts of a dysfunctional family but are imperfectly perfect for Riley, and I can’t wait to hear how he continues to remake their bonds. If you haven’t listened to Revelations, I highly recommend that you do, so you can jump right into Sacrifice.