The Zagzagel Diaries is a beautifully written contemporary fantasy short story series that is part of the Minority/Diversity Voices Collection published by Untreed Reads. The series chronicles the experiences of Zagzagel, the Angel of Wisdom, who develops deep feelings for his human charges thereby putting him in continuous conflict with God, otherwise known as Big Poppa. The author takes a refreshing approach to the writing of these stories and in particular the character of the angel Zagzagel. While Tyne assigns some of the basic attributes associated with the angel archetype in speculative fiction to the character of Zag, at the same time the author cuts an innovative path away from the at times over-tired angel characterization to create an original and unique character in Zagzagel.
In all, five stories in the series have been published to date – Forsaken, Denial, Desperate, Lost and Broken – and there is one remaining story to conclude the series that is currently in the works. The individual stories are quite short, ranging from between nine to thirteen pages in length, but they are all so well written and multi-layered that they read as fuller length stories. In addition, with a well developed over-arching plot that is woven throughout each story, a main character that jumps off the page and emotionally compelling individual stories the reader is immediately drawn into the plight of Zagzagel and his human charges.
The stories are written exclusively from Zag’s perspective and each provides a glimpse into “a day in the life” of the angel Zagzagel as he attempts to save his humans from imminent tragedy and help them find inner peace. With each story the author reveals more and more of the main character, including hints as to his back-story, which is why the stories are best read in sequence of publication. Tyne ascribes an extremely rich and intelligent narrative voice to this complex character whose sarcasm, biting wit and, at times, impatience with his humans provide for moments of humorous respite from the seriousness of the human situations and tragedies that are about to unfold if he doesn’t intervene.
“Feathers ruffled. My shoulders tightened. Apparently, my guidance wasn’t worth a flip these days. With a stretch and a snap, loose underlining flew in the air about me, fluttering, drifting on the breeze. Despite knowing the young man’s agony, his naivety sickened me.
Try living the pain of ten thousand lifetimes, I desperately wished to tell him.
What I wouldn’t give for an hour in his shoes, fifteen minutes inside that skin-tight material covering such perfectly honed thighs. He was so beautiful, so mortal, so intelligent —
‘Just. One. Step.’ As his garbling knocked me from my reverie, his right foot slipped.
All right. I concede—he was a fucking moron.”
The complexities of the angel character of Zagzagel are further explored through the principal plot, which is threaded throughout each of the stories and is focused on Zag’s personal struggle with God’s rules. Zag is increasingly angry with God and continuously conflicted with, on the one hand, not interfering with the choices of his charges lest he alter the course of their lives and, on the other, doing what he must to save them. After millennia of watching over his humans, Zag is tired of the senseless pain and misery that he’s witnessed and is at a crossroads, questioning whether he will be able to continue with his duties. The overlays of Zagzagel’s weariness and struggle with God and his sometimes conflicting feelings about his human charges only add to the overall richness and texture of this character and his ongoing story.
Thematically, the first three stories deal with issues of sexuality, self-acceptance and self-love as the humans that Zag watches over struggle to accept who and what they are in the face of hatred and rejection from family and society. The fourth and fifth stories are variations on these themes but approach the subjects of gender identity, sexuality and differences from the perspective of the consequences Zag’s wards endure because they have the courage to live their lives honestly. Tyne has written these stories with great sensitivity and a deep understanding of the plight of the human characters, exploring the stark realities that LGBT people face within a world that seeks to vilify and punish. There is emotional integrity and a level of rawness to all of the stories whereby the author has stripped away any superfluous sentimentality to reach the heart of the pain of the humans while at the same time offering hope through the character of the angel Zagzagel.
These short stories are the first works I have read by Bryl R. Tyne and I absolutely relished the thrill of discovering his writing. The author has taken a unique approach in the writing of this series and in particular in the writing of Zagzagel, who is truly unconventional and like no other angel character that I have previously encountered within the fantasy genre. All of the stories are superbly written, at once both incredibly moving and uplifting, and each deserving of a five star rating. Broken (Story 5) ends in a cliff-hanger and while I very much look forward to reading the sixth and final story in the series, in all honesty, The Zagzagel Diaries have left me craving so much more of the angel Zagzagel. Most highly recommended.
The Zagzagel Diaries (Stories 1-5) by Bryl R. Tyne is available at Untreed Reads.
NOTE: This review was originally published online at Three Dollar Bill Reviews.