Book Review

When The Angels Left The Old Country

When the Angels Left the Old Country

  • Author: Sacha Lamb
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: October 18, 2022
  • Publisher: RB Media

Thank you to NetGalley and RB Media for providing me with an ARC of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: antisemitism, murder, violence, blood

For fans of “Good Omens”—a queer immigrant fairytale about individual purpose, the fluid nature of identity, and the power of love to change and endure.

Uriel the angel and Little Ash (short for Ashmedai) are the only two supernatural creatures in their shtetl (which is so tiny, it doesn’t have a name other than Shtetl). The angel and the demon have been studying together for centuries, but pogroms and the search for a new life have drawn all the young people from their village to America. When one of those young emigrants goes missing, Uriel and Little Ash set off to find her.

Along the way the angel and demon encounter humans in need of their help, including Rose Cohen, whose best friend (and the love of her life) has abandoned her to marry a man, and Malke Shulman, whose father died mysteriously on his way to America. But there are obstacles ahead of them as difficult as what they’ve left behind. Medical exams (and demons) at Ellis Island. Corrupt officials, cruel mob bosses, murderers, poverty. The streets are far from paved with gold.

It’s time for another confession. I’ve never read or watched Good Omens. I have the book on my shelf, but I’m sure you know that collecting books and actually reading them are two completely different hobbies. So I didn’t really know what I was in for, other than what the summary said. As it turns out, this was chock full of Jewishness, and I absolutely fell in love with this story. 

Donald Corren was the narrator for the audiobook, and he did a fabulous job with this story. He brought these characters to life and kept me listening and hooked from start to finish. 

Right from the start, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the angel and Little Ash. They have a unique kind of relationship that changes throughout the story, and we really get to know these two characters—their strengths and weaknesses, and the role that they play in each other’s lives. It was especially intriguing to see the way gender roles were approached for these two: the angel was a nonbinary character and preferred the pronoun “it,” and Little Ash was more of a gender fluid character, who often presented as male but easily presented as female as well. Although their relationship appeared platonic, they were very closely bonded and often referred to each other as “the friend of my soul,” and I thought that was the sweetest thing ever.

It was also intriguing to consider that Little Ash might be viewed as a disabled character in some respects. When viewed as a human, he often struggled with his feet and wearing shoes, but as a demon, he was significantly smaller and magically weaker than his peers. This came with a stigma for him, and he struggled with this at various points in the story. While he isn’t explicitly referred to as disabled, it was an interesting thought that occurred to me, as a disabled person myself viewing him through my own lens of experience, that having lower amounts of magic might have qualified him as disabled.

Rose presented as queer early on, and it was painfully obvious to me, although it clearly wasn’t to her. It’s understandable, as that wasn’t a thing that was openly expressed in those times, especially in a very small town that was focused on getting married and having children. I really enjoyed Rose’s character, as a smart, focused, stubborn, and loyal woman, who stuck with the people that she cared about and never backed down from a challenge. She was a character that I easily identified with, and the fact that she struggled with wanting a bigger life than what was available to her in Shtetl made sense to me.

Reading a story about the immigrant experience as they came to America, went through a long and difficult journey by boat, faced prejudice and obstacles at Ellis Island, and then were thrown right into housing and forced into jobs working for predatory bosses was eye-opening. They faced a different type of prejudice than they knew in the Old Country, and didn’t exactly walk into the Goldene Medina (Golden Land) that they were expecting, but they also weren’t willing to take this kind of treatment lying down—they organized a strike.

Overall, this was an incredible story. Lamb takes us through a historical fantasy world where supernatural creatures like angels, demons, and dybbuks walk alongside humans, and creates a memorable cast of characters that will stick with me long after reading this book. The overwhelming Jewishness of this book resonated deeply with me, although readers don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this, and the humor and action kept me glued to the story. I’ll definitely be recommending this to everyone I know.

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