This is the companion book to Pet but it can be read as a free-standing story, too. Bitter has had a wretched childhood, passed from one foster home to another, deprived of love and support and perpetually hiding to escape the next punishment or abuse. Little wonder, then, that she craves a safe, quiet environment where she can paint and see only those people she regards as friends.
Thus she finds herself in Eucalyptus school, with the kind but enigmatic Miss Virtue as its Head. She may stay there always to paint, if she wishes, as when she has graduated she can take up a teaching position to pass on her skills. With her friends Blessing, Alex and Eddie around her and the attentions of her boyfriend Aloe all seems to be well, but things are not always what they appear to be on the surface – a theme which recurs in the narrative.
Bitter has immersed herself wholly in her studies and her art but beyond the school boundaries the city of Lucille is in turmoil. Corruption is rife and the response of the police to the protesters is murderous. Bitter is riven by guilt: her deep-seated need for safety and seclusion sits uneasily with her desire to help her friends in their struggles against the current regime. She begins to realise that art can be a powerful medium for change and, after a close friend loses her eye to a police bullet she channels all the strength of her emotions into a terrifying monster which she brings to life with drops of her blood.
In doing this she has acted as a gate for other beings – who all have the title angel – to bring vengeance for the woundings and deaths among the protesters and to kill corrupt officials. Here Emezi unfolds the crux of his intention: is murder ever justified and are there other ways to protest which are equally effective? Readers are asked to judge their own responses as well as those of the protagonists.
This is a powerful book with emotions often running high and language is often graphic. As readers we are invited to observe the struggle from close quarters, rather than from the safe distance of TV, radio, newspapers and social media. We are introduced to characters who Emezi has brought alive and we know them, care about them – and so, most of all, we must decide where we stand in this struggle, symbolic of the many which rage on our planet.