Using the war in heaven as the premise for a fantasy novel may seem like it would either become preachy or else turn into utter sacrilege. Steven Brust takes the idea and makes it into something unique and compelling. In his own words, Brust says “From all of my readings on the revolt of the angels, two things are clear; God is omnipotent, and Satan is not a fool. There seems to be a contradiction there…” It is with this in mind that he wrote To Reign in Hell. It is not a book that will reveal any religious truths, nor does it make light of the idea. Instead, it takes the core elements and creates something new.
Drawing from the biblical war in heaven, Yaweh is the first being to have formed out of the chaos and the one who brought out other angels through his actions. Together, they fended off the chaos and created a land known as heaven. Leviathan, Beelzebub, Satan and Lucifer, along with other well known names take on various roles such as leading areas of heaven. At the center of it all is Yaweh, protected by Michael, and here he oversees heaven.
He is powerful and loving, desiring the happiness and safety of the angels. It is this sentiment that drives him to a plan to create a place where the chaos can no longer invade and all of the angels can exist without fear of destruction. A sphere where the angels can create and where they can exist in peace with one another.
An angel named Abdiel is self serving enough to cause a breakdown in communication of Yaweh’s plan and misunderstandings lead to a snowball of trouble. Each character is given a respectful show of compassion by Brust, being motivated by very real sentiments and emotions. While it doesn’t delve very deeply into theology, it does offer a show of respect towards the Christian faith from which the To Reign in Hell’s inspiration was drawn.
By the end of the book, it is difficult to think ill of anyone as a person, though their actions may be taken as evil. There is very real regret and deep internal conflict even in the angel who began the chain of events that led to the war. Don’t go into this book with assumptions and don’t take it as gospel. It is entertainment alone and nothing more. With that said, To Reign in Hell is a masterfully written book and Brust created something very unique with his prose. The subtle sense of humor that appears at some points is also quite entertaining. It is well worth a read regardless of a person’s own religious beliefs.