Author: Meredith Ann Pierce
Genre: Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: March 1982
Paperback: 281 pages
Aeriel is kidnapped by the darkangel, a black-winged vampyre of astounding beauty and youth, and taken to his castle keep. There, she must serve his thirteen wives, wraiths whose souls he has stolen away. Aeriel knows she must kill the darkangel before he takes his fourteenth bride and comes into full power, but she is captivated by his magnificent beauty and intrigued by the spark of goodness she sees inside him.
Will Aeriel risk damning all of humanity to save the darkangel’s soul, or can she end his reign of beautiful terror before he finds his final bride? Can Aeriel save the Vampyre’s soul?
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Darkangel trilogy
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: The Darkangel has come up recently in a few comments – so when I saw a slightly worn copy available at Books of Wonder for just $3 (!!!) I knew it was a sign.
While gathering the ceremonial herbs and flowers on the eve of a great wedding celebration, handmaid Aeriel and her mistress Eoduin ascend the highest peaks overlooking their village – and Eoduin’s natural grace and beauty attracts the eye of the Darkangel. A cruel, blood-drinking, soul-stealing vampyre, one of seven icari, the Darkangel steals Eoduin as his thirteenth bride, much to Aeriel’s terror and dismay. In her quest to avenge her friend and mistress, Aeriel is also stolen away by the vampyre, not as a bride, but as a serving girl and weaver for the Darkangel’s thirteen existing brides. Trapped in an impossibly cold palace of death and despair, Aeriel is horrified when she meets her new mistresses – ghostly, shrunken wraiths without blood, substance or soul, and only a far gone memory of the women they used to be. With the help of an ancient mage, Aeriel vows to stop the Darkangel from taking his fourteenth wife and coming fully into his power as a full vampyre – for if he gathers his fourteenth soul, he will join his six icari brothers to wreak havoc and descruction on the world.
And yet, for all of Aeriel’s determination, for her fear of the Darkangel and his cruelty, for her vow to help the wraiths and her lost mistress Eoduin, Aeriel senses that there is still some kernel of goodness in the Darkangel. Aeriel holds the fate of the world in her hands – to trust in the buried, locked away remains of a good soul within the Darkangel’s leaden heart, or to slay him to protect everything good and living in the world.
I confess that I’ve never read anything from Meredith Ann Pierce, and had not even heard of The Darkangel until this year – but I am so very glad I did. This is a lush, almost poetic tale with prose that is both sweet and pure, though not without its share of darkness (as is true of the best dark fantasies and fairy tales). In style and in form, The Darkangel feels very similar to Clare B. Dunkle’s The Hollow Kingdom, tossed with Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and Beauty, with a touch of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (yes, there’s a magical talking lyon in this book). This is pretty excellent praise, as all of these books are pretty freaking fantastic, and The Darkangel conjures images and likenesses of different aspects of them all. Truly, it is the writing style and the descriptions that won my heart with this book – from the phrasing of certain passages, to the descriptions, there’s something almost…well, darkly magical about The Darkangel, as cliched and hackneyed as my own words sound. Take, for example Aeriel’s first encounter with the Darkangel’s wives:
He led her up a winding stair, down a long narrow hall to a little door at the very end. It opened onto a tiny windowless room in which were twelve-and-one emaciated women. Some stood in corners or crouched, leaning back against the walls. Some crawled slowly on hands and knees; one sat and tore her hair and sobbed. Another paced, paced along a little of the far wall. All screamed and cowered at the entrance of the vampyre.
Isn’t there something so beautifully lyrical in the cadence of the passage? Something beautiful in how Ms. Pierce’s prose depicts something so terrible? Like Robin McKinley’s older work, there’s something unexpected and gorgeous in The Darkangel‘s turns of phrase; something sadly missing in many contemporary fantasy novels, for young readers and adults alike. It’s the type of quality you forget about until you read it, and The Darkangel has this ineffable essence packed into every gorgeous sentence on the page.
Beyond the care and detail Meredith Ann Pierce’s novel gives to phrasing, the worldbuilding of The Darkangel is similarly lush and unexpected. I loved that this actually is a science fiction novel in addition to being a fantasy, with a sad story of colonists long come and gone, and the wasted aftermath of their efforts on Aeriel’s strange planet, where days are much, much longer than those on Earth.
From a character perspective, however, things are a little shakier. As a heroine, Aeriel is sweet and honest, and her motivations are utterly believable and never feel forced or contrived. That said, she is, perhaps, a bit too good to be true; a bit too selfless, and good, and moral. There’s nothing wrong with a heroine that never falters or balks in the face of danger, or hesitates in making self-sacrifice for the good of others – but it does leave her character feeling a bit bland and lacking in complexity. My only real complaint, however, lies with the eponymous Darkangel himself. I didn’t really believe that there was any good left in him, and even though the slightly-saintly Aeriel senses this innate humanity, buried beneath his cold, beautiful, and cruel exterior, I don’t know that I bought the romantic angle of the book. And yet…perhaps this is just a matter of personal taste. In any case, with two more books in the trilogy, perhaps these characterization issues are addressed more in-depth.
Overall, The Darkangel is a beautiful, unexpectedly lush book, with a style that is unrivaled in the current YA Fantasy space. Absolutely wholeheartedly recommended – now I just need to figure out where I can get my hands on copies of books 2 and 3 in the trilogy.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From one early chapter in the book:
The icarus paused gracefully at the steps; all his moves were grace. “Do you come?”
Aeriel turned back to him. “I am to be your bride,” she said, not questioning. The certainty of it overwhelmed her.
The darkangel looked at her then and laughed, a long, mocking laugh that sent the gargoyles into a screaming, chattering frenzy. “You?” he cried, and Aeriel’s heart shrank, tightened like a knot beneath the bone of her breast. “You be my bride? By the Fair Witch, no. You’re much too ugly.”
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee
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MarieCFebruary 29, 2012 at 6:18 am
Wow! I’ve never even heard of this book! thanks for the review…now to hunt up copy!
AmandaFebruary 29, 2012 at 6:48 am
I first read this series in sixth grade – I will say this only in an effort to avoid spoilers – Aeriel experiences tremendous change throughout the series and I believe you will find the ending both heartbreaking and incredibly satisfying. The Darkangel trilogy is very unique and I reread it every few years – it’s stuck with me all this time.
Diana PeterfreundFebruary 29, 2012 at 6:56 am
I have noticed that I, also, often have that reaction to reading books from the 80s (Margaret Mahy is another example). I am struck by the lush prose, but feel that the characterizations are not as deep as in the books I read now.
I think those two things might be connected. The voice in these older books tends to be more removed third person, so that even though you know what the character is thinking, the voice of the prose is distinct from the character’s, whereas the fashion now is either is that even in third person books, it should be a very deep third person POV, with a voice that matches the character’s own. It allows you to understand the character more, but unless your character is deeply poetic, you’re going to lose some of the prose stylings.
One writer who is very successfully splitting the difference is Laini Taylor.
Jackie KesslerFebruary 29, 2012 at 8:14 am
I haven’t heard of this trilogy. Thanks for the review; I’ll have to check it out.
(My TBR pile is getting woefully large.)
MistiFebruary 29, 2012 at 9:23 am
Loved this book as a kid. I haven’t re-read it in a long time.
elizaFebruary 29, 2012 at 10:04 am
oh, i loved loved loved this trilogy, and i was very excited to see you review it! now i think i need to go troll abebooks for my own copies, as the ones i read 10 years ago were borrowed, and are surely disintegrated by now…
SheilaFebruary 29, 2012 at 10:21 am
I loved these as a teen too. I thought they were so romantic. I reread the trilogy a couple years ago, and was struck by how strange it was–particularly the second two novels.
I agree completely about the writing style–it’s lush and poetic. Befitting such an otherworldly tale, IMO.
AngieFebruary 29, 2012 at 11:45 am
You read it! Yay. And you definitely need to get a hold of the other two. I loved them. Love that they’re scifi novels masquerading as fantasy (as you said), and love the ending.
AmyFebruary 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm
Wow, what a blast from the past! I adored this book as a young teen, so much so that it was one of the few books I owned in hardback. 🙂
Megan no hFebruary 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm
YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!! I AM SOOOOO HAPPPPPPI! Now if only I can convince my dad to dig out my copies out of my old book boxes and mail them to me.
I cannot WAIT for you to read A Gathering of Gargoyles. It’s my favorite of the three!
MarlaMarch 1, 2012 at 10:12 am
My Meredith Ann Pierce obsessions started with Birth of the Firebringer, purchased at a Scholastic Book Fair in 4th grade. It’s got unicorns. Unicorns! Unicorns that stab monsters! And have unicorn kings! And prophecies! And it was part of a trilogy! But although I looked everywhere for many years, I couldn’t find the rest of the books until college. Sigh. While you’re reading 80s SF/F, look for the Jinian books by Sheri Tepper.
MailiMarch 1, 2012 at 4:55 pm
Wow. I read this when I was a teen. I remember feeling slightly frustrated with it, but I can’t remember exactly what with. I’m thinking it might be this bit in your review:
I had no idea it was part of a trilogy, though. I wonder whether to risk ruining my memories with a re-read in order to read the following books. *strokes chin* Hm.
amyMarch 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm
Meredith Ann Pierce’s writing is assured and lyrical. I found myself reading passages aloud for their power and beauty. During the hours I spent reading the book, I believed in the Darkangel, the wise little duarough, brave Aeriel and the mighty Pendarlon, the coolest lion character in fantasy since Aslan.
ChristineMarch 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm
I read the trilogy several years ago and absolutely loved them! Although the ending of bittersweet. Ms. Pierce is a wonderful writer and I enjoyed several of her other books. I only wish she was more prolific so I would have more to read 🙂
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ErikaAugust 16, 2017 at 8:01 am
The ending is not satisfying at all! It ended on a tease of more stories for Aerial. Maybe you need to re-read it again.
KimFebruary 7, 2018 at 12:06 am
I read this book twenty years ago and re-read it all in the same night. Still remember the trilogy till today.