Kathryn Lasky's The Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book Eleven: To Be a King
Book review by Monica Friedman
The Ultimate Battle of Good versus Evil and a Shape Shifting Owl
While the bulk of this story follows the good and noble King Hoole (“just plain Hoole,” pleads the young king, who gathers his most trusted supporters and tells them, “I do not want absolute power”), the more exciting arc of the novel follows the life of Lutta, a magical and phenomenal hybrid of owl and hagsfiend, who has the ability to shape shift into any kind of owl. Lutta is the masterpiece of a self-serving hagsfiend named Kreeth, who explains, “Creating creatures in one’s own image is completely boring…. I only create new life to study it. To see the possibilities.”
(Start at the beginning. Read Monica's review of the first Ga'Hoole book.)
While Hoole and his band are intent on their cause, creating a society built on “the ideas of goodness, equality, and nobility,” Kreeth is teaching Lutta to become a fearsome creature, harnessing her sense of vengeance as her poison and her skills grow keener. Although owl civilization is collapsing around them and factions of owls everywhere are making power grabs and fighting minor skirmishes, Kreeth has her eyes on the prize: she seeks to become the strongest magician in the world, and rule over all creatures, everywhere. Using Lutta as her vehicle, she hopes to steal the ember and harness its power.
She has her opportunity when she learns that Hoole is most interested in learning the whereabouts of one of his followers, Strix Emerilla (Otulissa’s revered ancestor, of course), who was lost in a great battle. Her body has never been recovered, and she is presumed alive. While Hoole is laying out his network of spies, learning the political situation in the old capital, and gathering more supporters (especially blacksmiths capable of forging the weaponry they need for the upcoming war), Kreeth helps Lutta transform into a facsimile of Emerilla so perfect that her own mother accept her as the genuine article, although with some indescribable misgivings in her gizzard.
In a parallel subplot, Hoole’s friend Theo has returned north to contact the polar bears, set up the slipgizzle network, and discovers that his brother has become a puppet of the hagsfiends, a false ruler sitting on the ice throne from which H’rathgar and his ancestors ruled for thousands of years. Much to his surprise, he finds the real Strix Emerilla working as a servant. The corruption of the false king is undoing the magic of the ice palace, which is melting around them, and Emerilla is waiting for her chance to kill the usurper.
As the days march toward the winter solstice, Hoole works with the wolves of the Beyond to hone his power. He knows he must attack all his enemies by this deadline and defeat them quickly if he is to save the owls from a world ruined by dark magic. Kreeth is equally determined to use Lutta to gain the ember in the same time frame, becoming a supreme dictator and spreading darkness around the world. Guardians of Ga’Hoole Book 11: To Be a King ends with a message of responsibility. While the power of the ember is a great one, it is necessary to bear in the face of evil. Only a worthy one may bear it, but for that one, the burden is mandatory. At the story’s end, the new king, Coryn, begins to understand the dangers of what he carries, and the responsibilities he will have to shoulder as a result.
Review of Book 12: The Golden Tree.
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