The Darkangel - Meredith Ann Pierce (1982)

The Darkangel is the first in a trilogy, but it doesn't read that way; as a novel, it stands perfectly well on its own. The plot is fairly standard fantasy or faerie tale, which is by no means a condemnation. Aristotle pointed out thousands of years ago that there are only a few basic plots, it is what you do with them that matters, and it is what she does with them that Pierce shines.

The plot, as I say, is basic. A young girl's mistress is kidnapped by the titular Darkangel and she, prompted by revenge and despair sets out to slay the monster. Captured in turn by the monster, a vampire-like winged creature called an icari (using 2nd declension Latin noun form, one "icarus," two "icari"), she finds friends, goes on a journey, grows up and confronts the monster. All pretty standard. The lovlieness of the book shines through in the details. Pierce has tapped into a rich vein of mythic symbolism, understandable since she claims an autobiography of Jung as an inspiration.

The world of the book is sketched in, some things simply must be taken at face value with no explanation. This is a sort of "soft fantasy" as opposed to the "hard fantasy" of, for instance, Tolkein where the setting is meticulously crafted and the pieces fit together like a fine watch. Rather this is a more sophisticated version of "once upon a time in a land far away," which has the immediate effect of removing the reader from this world and placing them elsewhere.

Some of the conceits in the book are marvelous - I particularly like the golden spindle which weaves cloth of pity, love, charity or whatever other emotional input one gives it. The setting is pleasant enough, the characters decently drawn if a bit archetypal. This book is, indeed, "the stuff dreams are made on." The problem is that, like dreams, it is evanescent. I enjoyed the book, but I suspect that it will not stick with me nor do I expect that I will come back to it again and again.

Although it was a pleasant diversion, I cannot quite give it an A rating. It must settle for a perfectly respectable B.

Overall Grade: B

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