As part of Fraser’s Fun House book tour, I have signed up to read and review Olga Gibb’s debut novel, Heavenward. Several bloggers have done the same, and we have been given allocated dates to publish our reviews. I thought this would be an interesting opportunity to read a fictional book, something that I hardly do. I also wanted to write a review, something that I haven’t done for a few years.
Before actually discussing the book itself, I’d like to mention a few caveats that will affect how the review should be read. Firstly, I am not among the target audience of the book, which seems to be teenage girls, so certain elements of the book, such as the romance, would not appeal very much to me. I am an adult man, though I hope my comments are nonetheless helpful. Secondly, and as a consequence of the first caveat, I do not know what other books aimed at a similar target audience are like. Most of the books I read are non-fiction, so I don’t have an effective counter-factual against which I can compare Heavenward. Thirdly, I have a near obsessive interest in religion, so the occasional comment that the book makes on related issues really stood out to me and caught my attention.
Given the caveats, it is therefore a great achievement that I found Heavenward to be an enjoyable novel, which, after a slow start, breaks out into a pleasant pace of vivid exploration into it’s other-worldy setting, elaborate mythos and slew of distinct characters.
The best of these characters, and indeed Heavenward’s greatest achievement is the protagonist, Ariel. A fiery school student, Ariel is never given a physical description, but her emotions and internal struggles are deftly defined. Her emotions are strong, and are significantly affected by her schizophrenia. Heavenward explores this aspect of Ariel bravely, and confidently juggles it alongside the constantly shifting settings of the book. It would be difficult enough to explore an issue like mental health by itself, but Olga Gibbs expertly navigates this, skilfully weaving it into both the setting and lore of the book. The result is that the world of Heavenward feels compelling and real, being constantly grounded by Ariel and her blunt observations.
The immersion fostered by Ariel’s character is supported by the Olga’s vivid and powerful descriptions of the settings and character. The first part of the book does however feature some descriptions that read in an odd manner, disrupting the flow. As the story progresses, this vanishes and is replaced by strongly worded descriptions that can invoke awe, wonder and disgust all the same, as per the various locations of the story.
Ariel traverses these locations in the present tense, first-person perspective. This again adds to how immersive Heavenward is after it’s initial slow start. The second half of the book whips into an exciting pace, and the book becomes hard to put down. It is here where the book really shines, after revealing a sprawling celestial tale, which remains compelling because of Ariel’s character. Whilst the story is unveiled in a fairly condensed fashion in several-page long expositions, there are plenty of details hinting towards further complexities to the story.
These details will no doubt be explored in upcoming sequels, which I very much look forward to, as Heavenward ends fairly abruptly, with no indication of an incoming finale other than the approach of the back page of the physical book. Crucial story moments cascade on top of one another, sadly detracting from the enormity that they could have had, making the final act of Heavenward weaker than it’s rich core.
Nonetheless, it is in this core that Olga shines as an author; with the strong descriptions and skilful personality exploration, the core of Heavenward reads and feels like the work of a well-seasoned novelist, mostly overshadowing the slow start and rushed final act. The result is a good introduction to what promises to be an exciting series that teenage girls would certainly enjoy.
Finally, what I personally salute Olga for is grappling with heavy and sensitive topics such as mental health and abuse; it is a brilliant achievement to meaningfully explore these issues, and really unpack the nebulous emotions surrounding them. This is what I like most about Heavenward; more than just a novel, it has clear social commentary in it, commentary which creates awareness about these crucial topics, and creatively combats the tyranny of stigma. It is for this reason that I really hope Heavenward finds its way onto the bookshelves of many young readers.
Heavenward by Olga Gibbs
With the power to end the world, would you protect humanity when it broke you or would you take revenge?
Meet Ariel: a quiet, unnoticeable girl with an incredible gift…
Ariel never had an easy or pleasant life, but the arrival of three gorgeous strangers meant her measured life is turned upside down, as she discovers that angels exist.
Now against her will, she’s drawn into an ancient celestial conflict, where her powers will decide the fate of humanity.
Deceived, threatened, hunted and now on the run, who can she trust?
Olga Gibbs lives in a leafy-green town, nestled amongst the green fields of West Sussex, England. She was writing from the age of fifteen, mainly short stories and novellas and was a guest columnist for a local newspaper. When she is not dreaming up new adventures for her imaginary friends, she does outreach work with teenagers.
She is currently writing a second book in the “Celestial creatures” series and another stand-alone psychological crime thriller book
Available to buy from (multi link): https://books2read.com/u/bWzWlx?fbclid=IwAR2p71NDRXCEdCSZxpK35hF5c81-4Xul3NJc4pWXDY4f68CFDsFzTSvARj8
Book 2 pre-order link: Hallow Pre Order