This morning I woke up after a dream about walking down the aisles of my childhood library. The library we went to when I was a kid was in the former bowling alley and it was hard to reconcile the two when the change was first made. Anyway, in my dream, as dreams go, the library was both bowling alley and library. I walked down endless rows of books to the sound of crashing pins and only picked up three: The Darkangel, A Gathering of Gargoyles and The Pearl of the Soul of the World, all by Meredith Ann Pierce. So, in true witchy fashion, I took it as a sign that today is the day that I’ll finally be able to recommend these books.
You see, I’ve tried to write this recommendation so many times it’s sort of notorious in my Google Drive folder for CBC posts. Anyway, let’s try to get past my weirdness about all this and talk about these books. The Darkangel was originally published in 1982, the year I was born. I find this somewhat fortuitous, given that these are some of my all-time favorite books. I actually didn’t start with The Darkangel, which is the first book. It must have been checked out the day I discovered them in the fantasy section.
Instead, I started with A Gathering of Gargoyles, whose cover and name caught my attention. Eventually I figured out it was a trilogy and re-read them all several times. Then every time I went to the library, I checked at least one of them out for a long, long time. In some ways they fit in well with my love of Tamora Pierce’s work. I was deep in the throes of many a re-read of The Song of the Lioness quartet. But The Darkangel Trilogy is enigmatic, where The Song of the Lioness is straightforward. Meredith Ann Pierce’s trilogy has a much more ethereal, dream-like feel to its prose, where Tamora Pierce is clear, sharp and precise.
The books are about the moon, though that’s never explicitly stated. It’s one of those lovely fantasy novels that allows you to believe what you want while you’re reading. The truth of the story is that long ago (in the present of the novel) humans came to the moon, performed a kind of terraforming and created people to populate their world, which was a kind of vacation resort for them. Then, a war on Earth called them away and they didn’t return. The moon people went on without much trouble, creating kingdoms, countries and political drama of their own, believing that their former god-like figures had abandoned them for good.
The interesting thing about these books is that unlike Tamora Pierce’s work, where the many kingdoms’ political drama is at the forefront of the story motivating much of the action, The Darkangel Trilogy stays close to its main character, Aerial, who grew up as a slave. At the start of the novel Aerial is mostly ignorant of the world outside the house where she grew up. She believes her mistress, Eoduin is her best friend and that she is a complete nobody.
Of course when Eoduin is kidnapped by a vampyre, we find that Aerial is made of tougher stuff than she originally seems. This is not the kind of vampyre you’re thinking of. Yes, he is beautiful, but he won’t be for long. He drinks souls and after Eoduin he only needs one more wife to turn into a hideous, nearly brainless creature who only serves his mistress, a powerful witch and the antagonist of the series. During The Darkangel, he’s mostly a jerk who is tormented by his faint memories of his past as a human.
Aerial goes to rescue Eoduin, but finds her situation somewhat hopeless. There is no food in the castle, her friend has been reduced to a mere wisp, a wraith and she fears for her life much of the time. The Gargoyles referred to in the second book’s title are the watchdogs of the castle and though they appear fierce at first, Aerial befriends them. Eventually, she and the Darkangel form a tenuous relationship. He is almost driven to the brink of madness by his dreams, but wants stories of the real world from Aerial.
In some ways, the first book is a version of One Thousand and One Nights. The Darkangel drinks off the souls of his wife and is in desperate search for another so that he can complete his monstrous transformation. Aerial’s tales lead her to trouble and the action of the trilogy begins. I’ll leave off here, because I know that once you start these books you’ll want to keep going. I’ve never recommended them to someone who didn’t end up loving it.
Though the books have young protagonists, I think they’re good for all ages. They have a timelessness to them that make them enjoyable still, though I am ostensibly an adult person. If you like high fantasy, these books are full up on beautiful fantasy characters; small gods, dwarf-like creatures, desert magic, evil witches and an ancient mysterious race all populate the kingdoms of the moon. For those looking for diversity in their books, Pierce’s moon people are every shade from mauve to green to blue and black as dark as the night sky and their cultures are varied in values and traditions. She pulls lots of archetypal ideas from many cultures, but it doesn’t feel appropriative because the moon kingdoms are fairly original, rather than merely representative of Earth people.
I hope you’ll give The Darkangel Trilogy a try and come back and let me know what you thought.
Allison Carr Waechter goes back to school this week, but has a full 24 hours set aside to read Queen of Shadows. Don’t expect to see her until sometime on Wednesday or Thursday.