Meredith Ann Pierce
Spoiler Rating: Moderate
I’ve lugged veritable carloads of novels home from Half Price Books, most of which have subsequently been lugged back to Half Price Books for reselling. The Darkangel came home with me, oh, five or six years ago, and has sat brooding on my shelf until a few days ago, when I finally decided, Eh, it’s time.
But The Darkangel was not quite what I thought it was going to be.
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?
Ignoring the weirdness of “astounding youth” (what is he, a toddler?) and “beautiful terror” (I don’t even know), it sounds promising!
The moon. This book takes place on the moon.
Something over a thousand years in the future, humans have terraformed the moon and developed (what’s presumably) a mutated/modified human species that can survive much harsher conditions–so when the the artificial atmosphere begins to thin, the humans’ domed cities start failing, and war (or disease, or something) calls the humans back to Earth, the mutated/modified humans continue to thrive on the moon.
By the time the story begins, most of the atmosphere has gone, there is almost no surface water available, and the ancient humans who created them are mostly-forgotten religious-ish figures.
Enter Aeriel, a slave girl, and Eoduin, her mistress, climbing into the high peaks to pick rare flowers:
The desolate landscape, the black sky and white sun, the long day and long night (the sun is up for [I’m guessing; it’s never counted out] about 14 earth-days, and down for as long; a single day/night cycle is referred to as a day-month), the danger of cold and airlessness all combine to make a superb backdrop for a slightly creepy fairy tale–which The Darkangel is, in essence.
And oh, man, I can’t tell you how much I love that the lack of atmosphere on the highest peaks mutes voices to the point that even screams are only slight sounds. That is terrifying and so good.
Not Really Romance
I also greatly enjoyed the fact that this wasn’t really a romance. I don’t want to go into spoilers, but this is a very Beauty and the Beast type story, but not a romance. (Aeriel is too busy pursuing her goal to be romanced, and the darkangel is the opposite of a romantic figure anyway.)
I understand that their relationship does get romantic over the course of the rest of the trilogy, however–and I find this squicky due to their age difference. Aeriel is prepubescent at the start of this story, entering puberty a few months after she’s kidnapped. Obviously I have no idea how these Moon humans mature compared to Earth humans, but I was gauging her age around twelve or thirteen (though she does sometimes sound older). The darkangel, meanwhile, is thirty.
Confusing: The Intended Audience
The Darkangel is published under the teens division of Little Brown, which–coupled with the whole Sexy Vampire With Multiple Brides thing–led me to assume this was a book for teens. If it is, it has a very low opinion teens’ intelligence.
For example: there’s a prophesy in the form of a clumsy poem, and the meaning of a key line is blazingly obvious, but Aeriel can’t figure it out–and (worse!) even when another character sits her down and spells the meaning out, she doesn’t believe/understand it. She’s a sobbing mess, thinking everything’s ruined when it clearly isn’t, and I just can’t believe how dumb she is.
The story also skimmed over how Aeriel’s experiences changed/affected her, and glossed through the certain stages of Aeriel’s adventure much like a story for children: “After a day of walking, the lost duckling found a warren of rabbits, who took him in and presented him with a bed of downy fur and feasts of carrots and celery–but the duckling slept poorly underground and didn’t like the taste of carrots and celery, so after a week of politely picking at his plate, he bid his farewells and continued on his way.” What did the duckling learn while with the rabbits? How did his time spent with them affect his perspective on life/his adventure/his self?
Aeriel spends several months with a certain group of people, but those months last just a few pages, and by the time she leaves them she’s gained only a weapon. She doesn’t form any real relationships with the people; she doesn’t learn anything about herself or life or whatever; she rarely and barely thinks of her time with these people after she’s left them.
I certainly don’t want to bloat her journey with unnecessary stuff, but Aeriel seemed too little changed/affected by her experiences. It’s my opinion that teens (should) expect and (definitely) deserve more than that.
Problematic: Beauty, Goodness, and Race
There’s an interesting but problematic relationship between beauty, goodness, and paleness in this book.
It first appears on page two, when Aeriel is wistfully admiring Eoduin:
It’s expanded upon when Aeriel goes to meet the darkangel, intent on killing him for having kidnapped Eoduin:
(Note that his features, his body are not described–only the colors of him. We are constantly reminded of his beautiful paleness, and how captivated Aeriel is by him.)
It’s reinforced by the darkangel’s repeated comments on her ugly darkness:
And over time, the dark and ugly Aeriel changes:
The sun has bleached her darkness to beautiful lightness; she is now, the darkangel decides, prettier than Eoduin, whose hair was too dark.
It’s not necessarily the pale-is-more-beautiful-than-dark thing I have an issue with (though I’d really prefer more diversity, obviously; let’s have darker-is-more-beautiful books, and [though less likely] color-doesn’t-play-a-role-in-cultural-standards-of-beauty books, please and thanks). What makes squirm in my chair is that Aeriel herself (and the story itself) equates beauty with goodness:
That whole “spark of goodness” that the synopsis claims Aeriel sees in the darkangel? I never saw it. He’s straight-up vicious and cruel, and several other things besides. We’re just told that his beauty is evidence of his lingering goodness, and that when that goodness dies, so will his beauty. But he is also beautiful because he is pale. Goodness = beauty = pale. You can see the problem with this.
Fortunately, the book doesn’t strictly believe its own equation. The world is populated by dark-colored people who are lovely and good. For example:
There’s another example I’d like to give to prove that this book isn’t grossly pro-pale/anti-dark, but it goes too far into spoiler territory. Trust me when I say that the equation is fairly well dismissed by the end of the novel, though.
Nonetheless, this issue makes me squirm. I wish the equation hadn’t been used at all; I wish he had shown true sparks of goodness, and that beauty wasn’t used as its stand-in.
(Ugh, okay. He has a screaming nightmare once, but I need a lot more than just evidence that he can feel fear. Fear doesn’t equal goodness any more than beauty does. This guy tortures animals, for heaven’s sake. It’ll take a pretty significant spark to make me believe there’s goodness buried in there.)
Disappointing: Emotional Resonance
I never felt much of an emotional connection with Aeriel, perhaps in part because her own emotions were fairly steady and muted. Within minutes of being kidnapped and taken to the darkangel’s castle, Aeriel’s initial terror has subsided:
She feels revulsion and fear when she meets the other denizens of the darkangel’s castle, but those feelings are also swift to fade. When she faces mortal danger, she just…faces mortal danger and moves on.
Really, the one scene that dragged real emotion out of me was the death of a horse-creature, and that only because it reminded me too strongly of watching some of our horses be put down. I was seeing Stormy fall, and his legs kicking, and Mom shading his open eye from the sun while he died, and I had to put the book down and take a lot of very deep breaths. (I’m taking deep breaths now.)
And I lied: the other scene that got to me was the whole torturing animals bit. Thank goodness that only lasted a page or two.
In any case, this is a story that should keep me white-knuckled and flinching and breathless, and it didn’t quite manage that. I was reading to finish the book, not because I was emotionally compelled to read.
So why does it warrant two stars? Despite its (significant) flaws, this story has the potential to be really great. I was editing and plot-tweaking and rewriting (mentally, anyway) as I was reading, and enjoyed that process. I’m giving it two stars kind of in recognition of what it could be.
All told, this isn’t a bad story. The setting is neat, there were some great descriptions of some pretty horrifying things, and I really liked the fresh take on the vampire/angel mythology. (These vampires are not made by being bitten/fed blood by other vampires.) It’s not something I’ll reread, though, and I’d hesitate to recommend it to anyone over the age of twelve (and even then, there are better books out there).
But, hey, this means another book to return to Half Price! I’m trying so hard not to buy more until there’s space for them to fit neatly on my shelves. You’d be proud.