Flashback Fridays: Send me an angel . . .

You’re a girl whose part of the servant class, serving as a handmaid to your young mistress.  Until she is kidnapped by a monstrous creature called the Darkangel.  Not long after, you find yourself carried away by the same monster.  Now you are his prisoner, forced to weave clothing for the Darkangel’s wraith wives.  You know you must kill him before he claims his final wife and comes into his full power, but you hesitate . . .

Do you remember:

The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce (Atlantic Monthly Press, c1982)

How did I find Meredith Ann Pierce?  Well, this isn’t really a mystery.  This is one of those tween/teen stories that lived in the Children’s section when I was a kid–and I was the kid who dove right into Tamora Pierce’s work.  So it stands to reason that sooner or later I’d wonder about the writer playing neighbor to her on the shelf.  Meredith Ann Pierce is a very different sort of writer, but  well worth the read.    Her Darkangel trilogy has been set firmly in young adult these days–which isn’t surprising.  It’s one of the oddest  genre-blend trilogies I’ve ever come across.  It’s also a series I really enjoyed reading, and has proven unforgettable over the years.

When Aerial is kidnapped by the Darkangel, he considers her too ugly and low class to be considered as his next “bride”.  Instead he sets her to serving his blood drained wraith wives and commands her to make them gowns to wear.  Their bodies are so fragile and light that anything other than finest thread weighs them down terribly.  While Aeriel is afraid, she is also fascinated.  She’s spent most of her life as a  lowercaste servant to her lady, and now her lot has changed.  Aeriel knows that the darkangel is dangerous and terrible, but he is not past all humanity–not yet.   For unlike the other vampyres, he still possesses his soul.  Despite the strangeness of his appearance Irrylath was once just a human child, transformed into what he is now by the White Witch.   Once the darkangel gains a twelfth wife, he will come into his full power, and the White Witch will turn him into a permanent soul-drinking monster–a true vampyre.  And that must not happen, for the safety of the entire world in which she lives.  Aeriel knows she must kill him before then, but time is running out.  Her strange set of allies give her what help they can in guiding her how to defeat the Darkangel–and they plan in earnest. Yet even Aeriel cannot predict how things will ultimately fall out.

This is a book about magic, and quests and prophecies, but it is also a book about love–unselfish love and its ability to transform.  The story reads like pure fantasy: there are dwarves and mystical monsters, vampires and deadly witches, magical spindles and powerful artifacts.  In fact, you can read the first book and imagine the story to be done in this stunningly bittersweet fantasy.  It’s a marvelous read all on its own.

But the tale is far from over . . . the second book, A Gathering of Gargoyles (1984)  sets Aeriel on the mission to defeat the White Witch herself, and prevent her from creating anymore vampyres.  The gargoyles she sets free at the end of the first book are revealed to be more than she had guessed.  In the third,  The Pearl of the Soul of the World (1990) (quite possibly one of the worst titles I’ve encountered in kid’s speculative fiction)  readers follow Aeriel as she heads into a final confrontation and discovers the truth about the world, and herself.    This is one of those books that slyly starts as fantasy, allows you to think it is just that, and then reveals to you that it’s more of a science fiction work instead.   I don’t want to go too much into the stories themselves since that would offer too many spoilers, but Aeriel and the world around her are not as we first imagined, and our assumptions are neatly shattered more than once.   There’s some fascinating writing here, and I enjoyed reading the entire story arc as a whole.  To be honest, however  I found the first book the one I returned to again and again, and I rather like the ending of the first book.  Everything wraps up quite neatly and poetically.  The later books add a lot more ambiguity and bittersweet regret to the story.

It’s hard to say who this trilogy is appropriate for.  It’s certainly dark and mature at times, although I feel the books never really cross the line out of tween.  It’s an intricately odd science fiction-fantasy  whose main themes focus on love and longing.   It’s an uncommon subject without the clear cut happy ending that readers may be hoping for, and certainly something that will leave the reader pensive about Aeriel’s own future.  For all that, I value this trilogy enough to own it for occasional rereads.

Meredith Ann Pierce is also known for her unicorn society based Firebringer Trilogy, though I’ve been remiss in reading this trilogy.  My other favorite title by her is The Woman Who Loved Reindeer, a strange folktale that again tackles the theme of unselfish love, as well as singular bravery.

Any other fans out there?  Comments Welcome!

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on June 27, 2015, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’m a fan! I haven’t read them for ages through. Interesting to see the different covers.

  1. Pingback: My 400th Post: What Brought Me This Far: 100 Books in my Blood | Views From the Tesseract

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