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An angel and his apprentice seek answers from a magical book in post-revolution America invaded by angels. Epic quest ensues.

The story started with an statement of the time frame, which (according to my poor grasp of history at the time) should have been just after the American Revolution. Sometime around that time, angels had come to earth and made themselves known. They ended up gaining some power and made some sort of colony in the United States, though exactly where I don't remember. The angels were human-shaped and sized, with similar anatomy, but had no wings as a whole, though I seem to remember several scenes with various angelic characters taking flight.

The story followed a young boy apprenticed to one angel as if it were a trade he could learn. His parents were honored that he was chosen by the angels to be an apprentice through a conversation the boy listened in on. He wasn't excited about it at first and gave the impression that most of the angels were arrogant and unapproachable, but found his master was different. The angel treated the boy kindly and fairly and did his best to teach him about the world and about angels as best as the angel knew. The angel used magic on a fairly regular basis, but the specifics of it I don't remember. It seemed like he was a scholar of some type by trade but I don't remember it being specifically mentioned.

Together they were seeking some magical book that had answers to the questions the angel had, the nature of the questions I don't remember. Their travels were opposed by other angels who didn't want them to find the book, because the questions he was asking would change things somehow in a way most angels didn't like.

I can explicitly remember a scene where the two are escaping on a boat and are being chased by a few angels. At least one of the chasing angels had some strange powers, and was able to turn into a large group of insects, like ants or wasps, but the protagonists were able to get away. One of the angels in their group was lion-like with a muzzle and mane but a humanoid form, or had the ability to turn into a lion, I don't remember. It may have been the same angel and I've mis-remembered and combined the two. There was also a female in the group chasing them. I believe this group was the main set of antagonists, but were being directed by another party, another angel who had some sort of political clout.

Near the end the two had gotten to some large magical angel city and recovered the book, which gave the boy some magical powers like the angels. I remember his powers being described as blue flames, and the book may have given off blue flame as well. The boy ended up using his new powers against their antagonists and everyone was surprised at how much power the boy had and he nearly destroyed the opposing angels in a fight in the city. The book answered the questions the angel was asking and revealed they weren't angels at all, but elves who had to escape from their magical realm due to some evil destruction. This was a big surprise to the protagonists, though I explicitly remember being un-surprised, as the magic they'd described as having used seemed more nature-based than what you'd expect angels to use.

The book came to a proper closure with the good guys beating the bad guy and getting their questions answered, but it seemed like it would have been an opening for a series, with the boy getting new untapped powers and the angel/elf knowing the truth and having the will to try to inform others. I can remember looking through the book for hints of a series, any of those advertising blurbs paperbacks will occasionally do like 'here's a sneak-peek of the next book!' or 'Other books by this author!' and I don't remember being able to find any.

The tone of the story was serious with fictional elements. There weren't any scenes focused toward comedy, but there may have been some comedic moments I don't remember.

Brief backstory about the book: I found it as a softcover in a truck stop gas station while traveling between the Midwest and East Coast sometime between 2000 and 2002. I found it in a spinning softcover display among other cheap softcovers, mostly romance novels. I wasn't interested in romance novels, but this book caught my eye. The cover had to have been visually stunning enough to catch my attention, but considering the competition it didn't need to stand out much. I don't remember what the cover looked like, but may recognize it if I see it again. It seemed new at the time, not a reprinting, and was not by an author or publishing house I recognized.

I read it multiple times and enjoyed it greatly during my trip, but sometime near the end of the trip misplaced it. I revisited the same truck stop on my way back and was unable to locate another copy.

It may have been directed toward the young adult group, since I don't remember anything explicit - language, sexuality, or violence - about it. My memories are vague now and I might be wrong.

  • Welcome to the site. You have a great start here. If you could take a look at this guide to help jog your memory and edit in any more details, that would be great. Every little bit helps us. – amflare Dec 20 '17 at 17:10
4

It's been a long time since I looked at this book, but I am about 99.9 percent certain that you are thinking of The Ways of Magic, by Scott Ciencin. Does this cover art look familiar?

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Unfortunately, while it's listed on Amazon.com, they don't have "free online samples" of the first chapter or so. It appears that there is no e-book version available for Kindle, for instance. So I can't double-check portions of the text to confirm all the details of what you believe you remember.

However, I can confirm, from a combination of personal recollection and other people's online reviews (on Amazon, for instance), the following points that match closely with your recollections.

I'll quote bits of what you remembered, numbering them to distinguish them from anything else I quote which was not part of your original post. I'll comment on each point.

  1. The story started with an statement of the time frame, which (according to my poor grasp of history at the time) should have been just after the American Revolution.

I'm not sure about the exact date, but online sources confirm that, in the alternate timeline of this book, the divergence from our history books seems to have begun when the "angels" appeared in the world around the year 1500, and this book is set a few centuries later, after things have long since settled down into a new status quo.

  1. The angels were human-shaped and sized, with similar anatomy, but had no wings as a whole, though I seem to remember several scenes with various angelic characters taking flight.

I'm not sure about the "taking flight" -- my memory isn't that good, and I don't think I ever finished reading the book -- but I do remember that the "angels" were basically shaped like human beings. However, I have the distinct impression that anyone growing up in the angel-dominated world could, and did, easily learn to spot the differences between the angels he met and the humans he met, no matter how any of them were dressed.

The cover art, of course, shows one artist's conception of what a major "angelic" character is supposed to look like -- complete with pointy ears -- but at this late date, I can't swear as to whether or not the text of the book stressed the existence of pointy ears as one of the distinguishing characteristics of the angels.

  1. The story followed a young boy apprenticed to one angel as if it were a trade he could learn. His parents were honored that he was chosen by the angels to be an apprentice through a conversation the boy listened in on. He wasn't excited about it at first and gave the impression that most of the angels were arrogant and unapproachable, but found his master was different.

I remember that the main viewpoint character was a boy who was taken "under the wing" of an angel. (I put that in quotes because, as you remembered, this angel did not literally have big white wings growing out of his back, such as we might see in artistic renditions of Biblical angels.) I remember that the angel in question appeared to be a thoughtful, reasonable person who was not harsh with his new apprentice (or whatever the exact relationship was called).

Regarding the names of the two major characters shown on the cover, the plot summary on Amazon says:

Yearning to become an artist despite the commands of the lords, who determine everyone's trades, young Tom Keeper finds a chance to fulfill his dream when Aitan Anzelm visits his town and recognizes Tom's inborn talent for magic.

You said:

  1. The angel used magic on a fairly regular basis, but the specifics of it I don't remember. It seemed like he was a scholar of some type by trade but I don't remember it being specifically mentioned.

I'm in the same boat -- I know Aitan Anzelm had supernatural abilities, as did the other angels in Tom's world, but I don't recall exactly what they could do, or what Aitan's own field of expertise was among his kind!

  1. The book answered the questions the angel was asking and revealed they weren't angels at all, but elves who had to escape from their magical realm due to some evil destruction. This was a big surprise to the protagonists, though I explicitly remember being un-surprised, as the magic they'd described as having used seemed more nature-based than what you'd expect angels to use.

Yes, I remembered that the angel thing was all a scam. It was established right away in the text that, by the time this story was taking place, virtually all of the humans, and implicitly a great many of the "angels," were, in fact, firm believers in the validity of the term "angel" for this nonhuman race. Which turned out to be self-serving religious propaganda invented by the original batch of elves who had taken refuge on Earth. Tom's master, as I recall, was definitely one of those true believers. After all, why shouldn't he believe what his elders had been telling him for all of his life? But, as you say, they were simply elves whose ancestors had fled to Earth from some other world.

Of course, it helped that the series title shown on the front cover was "The Elven Ways," which strongly suggested that some of the characters in this story would be some sort of elves. (Granted, as far as anyone knew when reading the first chapter, it might have turned out that "the elves" and "the angels" were two separate sets of people in the plot.)

  1. The book came to a proper closure with the good guys beating the bad guy and getting their questions answered, but it seemed like it would have been an opening for a series, with the boy getting new untapped powers and the angel/elf knowing the truth and having the will to try to inform others. I can remember looking through the book for hints of a series, any of those advertising blurbs paperbacks will occasionally do like 'here's a sneak-peek of the next book!' or 'Other books by this author!' and I don't remember being able to find any.

On a very similar note, one of the reviewers on Amazon says, in part:

Yup. In the early 1500s elves escaped a dying and magicless realm and came to our world. They somehow got a copy of the Bible and set themselves up as angels, and thus, destroying any hope of technology as we know it. Without our guns and fighter planes, how can we win a war against high magic? Enter Tom Keeper, humankind's only hope.

On the other hand, the good news for you is that this was, in fact, always intended as the first installment of a trilogy, and the other two books were published afterwards. (Apparently spaced about a year apart -- 1996, 1997, 1998.) According to ISFDB, the Elven Ways trilogy consists of:

  • 1. The Ways of Magic
  • 2. Ancient Games
  • 3. Night of Glory
  1. Brief backstory about the book: I found it as a softcover in a truck stop gas station while traveling between the Midwest and East Coast sometime between 2000 and 2002.

The Ways of Magic was first published in 1996, so you could easily have run across it a few years later in a truck stop. And it looks like all three volumes only came out in paperback.

  1. It may have been directed toward the young adult group, since I don't remember anything explicit - language, sexuality, or violence - about it. My memories are vague now and I might be wrong.

I believe your memory serves you well on that point. As far as I can tell, it doesn't seem to have explicitly been marketed as "Young Adult" literature, but I think I read at least half of it, and I agree that it was written in a way that was meant to be pretty "clean" -- not involving lots of foul language or sex scenes, for instance.

  • Yes! That is it. Thank you! You mention that you read the book but didn't finish it - mind if I ask why? – Shionjin Dec 21 '17 at 19:32
  • @Shionjin - It's been about as long for me as it has been for you, so my memory is blurred, but I have a strong impression that I just plain didn't find the main characters, and the way they were written, to be all that appealing. Even though the basic premise of "elves are claiming to be angels with a divine mandate" was an interesting approach. So I simply lost interest and probably returned the book to the public library without finishing it first. (I suspect it was a library book, since I don't think I ever bought a copy, or else I would have seen it again in my collection since then.) – Lorendiac Dec 21 '17 at 23:36

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