This American debut by a veteran New Zealand novelist is a wonderfully imaginative tale, set in the 19th-century French countryside, of the long enduring, loving relationship between a man and an angel. The former is 18-year-old Sobran Jodeau, scion of a family of winemakers, who while drunk and unhappy in love encounters Xas, the celestial being who will thereafter visit him annually--until the angel's intimacy with his human lover propels him headlong into Sobran's complicated family and romantic life. The story is arguably overplotted (especially in later sequences that detail Xas's masquerade as tutor to Sobran's children or that explore the unconventional triangle formed by man, angel, and the younger noblewoman who eventually becomes Sobran's mistress). But a ferocious display of inventive power redeems and enlivens even the book's more extravagant convolutions. Knox's flexible, image-driven sentences effortlessly evoke the lush plenitude of Clos Jodeau and environs, as well as Xas's ineffable strangeness (sleeping in Sobran's bed, ""He looked comical, like a young man sharing his bed with two large dogs, the humps his wings made under the covers""). ""Fallen angel"" Xas, rejected by both God and Lucifer for his intellectual curiosity as much as for his dalliance with a mortal, is a formidable creation. And Knox equals it with her searching portrayal of Sobran: an intelligent, perceptive man who passes through astonishment at the visitation that becomes the love of his life, through furious despair when he learns of Xas's fallen state and fears he has committed blasphemy, to a resigned old age in which he knows he can neither keep nor relinquish the vessel of grace (if indeed it be such) granted to him decades before. A one-of-a-kind novel. It's not for Touched by an Angel watchers, but many readers may respond as ecstatically to Knox's brilliantly original book as they did to Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things.