Kathryn Lasky's The Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book Twelve: The Golden Tree
Book review by Monica Friedman
Even Good Magic Can Turn Evil, Even Good Owls Can Make Bad Choices
The three-novel arc of back story that precedes this installment in the Guardian of Ga’Hoole series makes one thing quite clear: the Ember is a power that should only be wielded by an owl of noble gizzard and strong Ga—a good owl—but its power is not limited to good. As with any magic, its potential for evil is high.
(Start at the beginning. Read Monica's review of the first Ga'Hoole book.)
Within a few weeks of Coryn’s triumphant arrival and the Ember’s long-awaited return to Ga’Hoole, a strange sort of golden age has fallen over the tree. Young owls are learning to read and write “at astonishingly accelerated rates,” easily undertaking the study of the most difficult topics, and producing artistic works: “painting and composing poetry.” Further, the tree, whose seasonal changes once measured the year for the owls, has become suspended in an eerie state of perpetual summer, an “eternal golden glory…as if the radiance of the Ember had infused the very fabric of the tree.” Few leaves have fallen, although the season is well into winter, and those that do fall leave behind shimmering, ghostly scrooms of themselves, so the tree remains in full leaf.
King Coryn broods over the possibility that his retrieval of the Ember has opened tears in the ether through which nachtmagen—bad magic—may infiltrate his world, turning simply evil owls, like his mother, Nyra, into horrible hagsfiends. To take his mind off this obsession, his uncle Soren suggests that they, along with the rest of the Band, travel the kingdom, visit old friends, and speak with his subjects to see “how the hard-won peace lies on the land.” Many of the other owls, infatuated with the Ember, are horrified at the idea of Coryn leaving it unprotected, so, reluctantly, he authorizes an official watch to keep an eye over the precious artifact in his absence.
Like many of the other books in this series, at this point the story diverges in two different directions. Coryn, accompanied by the original band of Soren, Gylfie, Digger, and Twilight, sets out to tour the owl kingdom, a journey that almost immediately gets sidetracked when Coryn sneaks out in search of the seer rabbit and stumbles upon a really evil book—the spell book of the hideous hagsfiend, Kreeth, whose story he has read in the ancient texts. In disguise and unable to purchase or carry the tome, he loses track of it, and he and the band must go in pursuit of a text that, in the wrong hands, could spell the end of the tenuous peace.
Back at the Ga’Hoole tree, a new organization has sprung up in Coryn’s absence: the Guardians of the Guardians of the Ember. Elevating this magical coal to Golden Calf status, they develop a series of rituals to venerate it, becoming in the process, most un-owl-like, and more to the point, totally fascist. Otulissa, as the voice of reason, is imprisoned in a hollow, and an unlikely hero is found in the portly and luxury-loving Madam Plonk, who leaves behind her comfortable life to find help.
Like the previous books in the series, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole Book 12: The Golden Tree blends the virtues of truth and courage, pitting them against empty ritual and unquestioning loyalty to bad ideas. Over everything hovers the concept of magic that can play out for good or for evil. Another epic journey and another satisfying conclusion follow as the series leads up to the ultimate battle to determine the fate of the world.
Continue to Guardians of Ga'Hoole 13: The River of Wind.
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