Format: Paperback, 256pp
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
First published in 1982 The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce is the first in the Darkangel trilogy. The series is being reissued by Little, Brown & Company with gorgeous new covers. I have to admit that the cover is what first caught my eye. But I was lucky that it wasn’t just another pretty face, what I found within the pages is a solid young adult fantasy worth reading more than once.
The Darkangel, once a mortal and not quite a vampire, must have 14 brides before he can come into his full power and immortality. He keeps his wives in his cold castle, wraiths without their souls, which he wears in lead vials around his neck. When the Darkangel steals away Eoduin, Aeriel, her slave and friend, vows to avenge her mistress and waits for the Darkangel to return.
But when the Darkangel comes back to claim Aeriel, she finds that he is too beautiful for her to kill. At first she thinks she too will become one of his brides but he scoffs at the idea, claiming that she is too ugly. Instead he has brought her to his castle as a servant; she is to weave the clothes for his brides and when he chooses his 14th and final bride it will be Aeriel that weaves the bridal gown.
Below the castle, in deep caves, lives a little man by the name of Talb. A magician of sorts, he helps Aeriel survive her first few months there, providing her with food and company when the voices of the wraith brides become too much. Aeriel also makes friends with the Darkangel’s gargoyles, bringing them food and coming to love them. She even becomes close to the Darkangel, sharing stories with him and coming to care for him, although she does not realize it at first.
While the Darkangel is cruel and seems heartless, Aeriel still sees some good in him. But when she realizes that with the Darkangel’s final bride he will not only come into his full power but that he will join others of his kind to take over the world, she takes action. With guidance from Talb, Aeriel escapes the Darkangel and goes on a quest to find an object that will help her save his withered soul.
The Darkangel is not the vampire story you might expect. Written years before a revolution was led by authors everywhere towards bodice-ripping novels that featured blood-sucking hunks, Pierce crafted an original fantasy with a vampire at its heart. More adventure and self-discovery than romance, this is a story of Aerial and her growth. Nevertheless the idea of romance is there; the pale beautiful face, the night black wings, the other worldly power, all elements that have followed the vampire into more modern settings.
But leave whatever vampire expectations you have behind you. The Darkangel is solid, finely wrought fantasy with hints of science fiction thrown in. The second book, A Gathering of Gargoyles, was released with its new cover this month with the third and final volume, The Pearl of the Soul of the World, hitting stores in February 2008. If you can’t wait that long, of course there is always local used bookstores and the used section on Amazon. But I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty cover, so I think I’ll just wait it out.