Stairway to Heaven

Karyn Henley’s new fantasy novel, her first for young adults, adds angels to the mortal realm

by Tina LoTufo

Breath of Angel
By Karyn Henley
WaterBrook Press
256 pages
$9.99

In Breath of Angel, author Karyn Henley creates a world populated by both humans and angels. The catch: most of the mortal inhabitants have no idea that angels in human form are living in their midst. Melaia, a sixteen-year-old apprentice priestess of the kingdom of Camrithia, certainly doesn’t. Trained as a “chantress,” she sings the myths and legends of her people, including the “Tale of the Wisdom Tree,” never suspecting that the song contains a startling and bitter truth that will deeply affect her own destiny.

Then one day a young messenger is attacked and killed in the courtyard of the temple where she lives. A messenger angel, that is, complete with wings. The attacker is an immortal being in the guise of a hawk—Lord Rejius—who reveals to Melaia that he and his brother are responsible for the destruction of the Wisdom Tree and the stairway to another dimension (Avellan, or heaven) held within it. Their selfish, brutal act has trapped all immortals, including angels, in the mortal realm for two hundred years.

The tree and its celestial stairway can only be restored with the help of the angel Dreia and three magical harps carved from its rare kyparis wood. According to Dreia's enigmatic magical book, “The tree will only rise again by breath of angel, blood of man.” Dreia is a member of the Archae—angels who serve as guardians of the elements of wind, fire, water, earth, and plant life. Lord Rejius intends to prevent her from succeeding in her mission by stealing the harps and destroying anyone who gets in his way.

As she learns more and more about the hidden realities of her world, Melaia is swept up into an adventure that takes her far from her peaceful home in Navia to the ancient hills of Aubendahl, the capital city of Redcliff, and the magical forest of Durenwoods. Along the way she meets members of the Angelaeon (angels loyal to the Wisdom Tree), including Sylvans (guardian Earth-angels), Erielyon (messenger angels), Archae, and Nephili (half-angel, half-humans), as well as the Malevolents (dark angels allied with Lord Rejius).

The best young-adult fiction allows the reader to accompany a young protagonist on a journey of self-discovery and revelation. In Breath of Angel Karyn Henley deftly weaves together the elements of Melaia’s story in a way that should speak to young adult readers intent on puzzling out the secrets, revealing the gifts, and facing up to the challenges of their own life adventures, with or without help from above.

Published Thursday, 23 June 2011