“Writing a trilogy means you have something constantly brewing on your mind for years on end,” says author and physicist Ian Tregillis. So after completing his alternate-World War II series The Milkweed Triptych, he decided to take a “break” by writing a standalone novel, a “palate cleanser” before tackling his next planned trilogy (alternate history clockpunk). Tregellis’ idea of a break may seem somewhat strenuous: “I’m a big believer in writing against obstacles,” he says. “The challenges force me to stretch my skills.”tregillis cover

The result of that strategy, a new novel titled Something More Than Night, is a brain-bending combo of angelic cosmogony, high-level physics and meta-noir. Struggling to navigate it all is Molly Pruett, once human but now a newly fledged angel tapped to replace the Archangel Gabriel, who died under mysterious circumstances. His universe-shaking instrument, the Trumpet, is missing, and everyone thinks Molly knows where it is.

Molly’s not-terribly-reliable guide to her new existence is the angel Bayliss, who has so fully embraced the noir archetype that the reader may have to look up some of the more arcane vocabulary the tough-talking angel uses. Tregillis certainly had to. “Once I decided that one of the characters should speak like a 1930s noir character, I had to do my research,” he says. He read extensively in the genre—Hammett, Cain, Marlowe—and as he read, he added words to a glossary that eventually grew to 80 pages. He notes that “most of the slang breaks down to terms for men, women, drugs and drinking, crime and dealing with the cops.”

He took somewhat of a less structured (or as he puts it, “loosey-goosey”) approach to the physics concepts he “sprinkle[d]” into the book, used to explain the origin of the universe as well as the nature of angels and their home, the Pleroma. “I don’t often put a lot of physics in what I write—normally, that would feel like taking work home with me.” He was inspired to write about angels because he was fascinated by “the depictions of medieval tapestries—the sorts of weird angels that are really alien and terrifying.” In Tregillis’ novel, the Archangels sing hosannas from both human and bestial mouths; the eye-studded wheels called Thrones keep the peace; and Cherubim intimidate with faces of flame.

The result is both dazzling and dark, and more than a little quirky. “It was kind of fun to write something more self-contained,” says Tregillis. “I felt like I had the freedom to take more risks with the world building.”

Amy Goldschlager is an editor and book/audiobook reviewer who lives in New York City. She has worked for several major publishers, and has also contributed to the Los Angeles Review of Books, Locus, ComicMix, and AudioFile magazine.