Kathryn Lasky's The Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book Fifteen: Exile
Book review by Monica Friedman
The Epic Conclusion in the Battle of Good Versus Evil, with Owls
For thousands of pages, the story has been leading up to this: a decisive battle between the forces of good, as represented by the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, and the forces of evil, led by the haggish Nyra. Ostensibly, they will battle over the powerful Ember of Ga’Hoole, an artifact that, in the right hands, inspires enormous cultural leaps and raises the intellect and artistic sensibility of those exposed to its power, but, in the wrong hands, can usher black magic and an age of terror and darkness into the land. In reality, they battle for the future of the world and all the creatures in it.
(Start at the beginning. Read Monica's review of the first Ga'Hoole book.)
Throughout the series, the story has examined the concept of war: when fighting is permissible or necessary, when aggression is uncalled for, and when an individual must make the choice to abstain from battle as a “gizzard resister” (or, in human parlance, a conscientious objector). Soren and the Band have mastered (or invented) a number of battle techniques: fighting with fire, fighting with battle claws, fighting with ice weapons, and, most recently, the gentle art of danyar (fighting with breath). We know that owls are no stranger to spies (“slipgizzles”) and ambush assassination squads (“slink melfs”).
Strategy and subterfuge, historical tactics and new allies will all come into play as an all-out war, involving every creature in the series, marches to its inevitable conclusion. Every freedom-loving owl—Kraal, Gadfeather, Middle Kingdom, Rogue smith, Krakish, Ambalan Greenowl—will fight for the Guardians, side by side with wolves, bears, snakes, seagulls, and even more unlikely companions. On the side of evil, Nyra’s Pure Ones, their ranks swelled with runaway Dragon Owls and promises of her new world order, await only the hatching of hundreds of unholy eggs to return the hideous hagsfiends to the owl kingdoms.
This vast story does not get hung up on play-by-play details; certain important actions take place off the page, with characters later joining up with others and unceremoniously announcing, “Mission accomplished.” The narrative moves quickly, with a minimum of gore (although there is some; this is war, after all, and dismemberments happen), and the war itself comprises only a small part of the novel. Preparations, diplomacy, collecting allies and intelligence, and planning, make up the bulk of the story, excising some of the glory of war. The outcome, in which lives are lost, depicts the reality of war.
A fitting conclusion to a provocative series of children’s books, Guardians of Ga’Hoole Book 15: The War of the Ember speaks volumes to the moral choices everyone—children included—must make on a daily basis. Do we stand up on the side of nobility and justice, or do we sit back and do nothing as terror and fascism spread across the land? Speaking out against evil, despite the consequences, and fighting it when necessary, is the path of righteousness. Some must sacrifice themselves to the cause. Some, like Soren, walk the path their entire existence, and, in the end, receive great rewards. We may only be called to stand up against evil once in our lives, this book argues, but the choices made in those few moments define us and our civilization.
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