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
Buy the Book: