A Gathering of Gargoyles: A Lost Masterpiece

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Meredith Ann Pierce A Gathering of GargoylesA Gathering of Gargoyles by Meredith Ann Pierce

A Gathering of Gargoyles is the second of Meredith Ann Pierce‘s Darkangel trilogy, beginning with The Dark Angel and culminating in The Pearl of the Soul of the World, which together create one of the most beautifully crafted and presented stories that I have ever come across. As told in The Darkangel, the story is of Aerial, a simple slave in a wealthy household whose mistress Eoduin was captured by one of the dreaded winged vampyres, who drink the blood and steals the souls of women. Aerial followed her mistress, becoming a servant in the Irrylath’s house, and to her horror, eventually being chosen to be his last bride. But with the help of the dwarf-like duarough Talb and a magical drought, she restored the darkangel to humanity by literally exchanging hearts with him, and returned him to his mother’s house.

And now Aerial is appointed another task set to her by the deceased spirits of the brides: to seek out the missing lons, the powerful animal-like wardens of the land who have long been missing, most likely due to the designs of the White Witch, the maker of the darkangels, who still haunts Irrylath’s dreams. Despairing of her husband’s inability to love her, Aerial takes up the task and sets off on a journey to the temple of the sibyl in her own homeland to unravel the mystery of an ancient riddle that will help her find the missing lons. Armed with a dark staff with a heron passenger, she not only seeks the lons, but unknowingly finds the secrets of her own past, and her role in the destiny that follows in the war against the Witch.

Unlike The Darkangel, which was created in more of a circular narrative in the fairytale motifs of capture, trial and restoration (much like in Sleeping Beauty or Snow White), A Gathering of Gargoyles is a voyaging novel, with an ultimate goal hindered by several obstacles. And these obstacles, far from dragging the story on, are fascinating: a sail across a Sea-of-Dust, hidden danger in a City of Thieves, a chase through a dark forest filled with night-haunts, the rescue of a rather unusual maiden sacrifice, a time of being held in captivity by a man who has sold his own name, the relighting of a great lighthouse, and finally, with the meeting of two familiar characters from the first book — one good and one evil — the climax of the quest.

Although the premise may look silly written down, perhaps seeming to belong to a trashy vampiric-romance paperback, I assure you it is not. Meredith Pierce creates a world with depth and resonance, perfectly mingling together elements of many cultures — the German loreleis, the European gargoyles, the Grecian sphinx — into a familiar, yet totally unique blend. Unlike many fantasy authors — and Tolkien imitators these days, who feel as if they must cram detail upon detail into their books in order to make it seem realistic (but only succeeding in making them encyclopedic), Pierce creates exotic worlds and its wildlife with barely any effort; a different way of keeping time, a new range of foods and plants (including ‘hungerspice’, ‘nightfruit’, and ‘winesheath’) and vivid descriptions of scenery that do not inflict directly on the story or slow it down, but simply serve to convincingly create an entire world separate from this one. Likewise, she keeps in mind the separate sects of her land, as in different countries the terrain and communities change, as does the language — in one place a darkangel is called an ‘icarus’, and in another it is called a ‘seraph’. All is told in an elegant and simple tone, as if Pierce is retelling a story, giving the book an air of being an ancient folklore retold.

Much of the charm of the books is the heroine, Aerial herself. In a politically correct world where authors feel as if female protagonists must be able to swing a sword in order to be considered ‘strong female characters’ equal to males, it is wonderful to discover a resourceful, intelligent, compassionate, strong-willed female who experiences hardship and triumphs over the odds without once resorting to violence (expect a couple of self-defensive maneuvers with a staff). Such heroines are increasingly getting harder to come by, but are always more realistic and interesting to female and male readers. I for one would have absolutely no clue what to do if someone handed me a sword, and Aerial, with her faults and virtues is a pleasure to read of.

The entire story reads like an old, dark fairytale, with traditional elements given new life — an invisibility cloak, magic fruit, a damsel to be sacrificed, a sacrificial stone — all sound like utter clichés, but are deliberately presented here in such originality that it is if you are reading of them for the first time. These books have my highest recommendation — everything about them appealed to me, from the content to the underlying themes to the style of the writing. Why these books remain largely unknown is a mystery to me, as Meredith Ann Pierce’s talent as a storyteller is right up there with the masters of the fantasy genre.

Darkangel — (1982-1989) Young adult. Publisher: The Darkangel, a vampire of astounding beauty and youth, can only summon his full power when he finds his 14th and final bride. But for Aeriel, whom he kidnaps to serve his brides, there is something about him — something beyond his obvious evil — that makes her want to save him rather than destroy him. The Darkangel — Pierce’s first book, originally released in 1982 — was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a New York Times Notable Children’s Book, a Parent’s Choice Award Superbook, and a Booklist Best Book of the Decade.

Meredith Ann Pierce 1. The Darkangel 2. A Gathering of Gargoyles 3. The Pearl of the Soul of the World book review Meredith Ann Pierce 1. The Darkangel 2. A Gathering of Gargoyles 3. The Pearl of the Soul of the World book review Meredith Ann Pierce 1. The Darkangel 2. A Gathering of Gargoyles 3. The Pearl of the Soul of the World


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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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