Kathryn Lasky's The Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book Nine: The First Collier
Book review by Monica Friedman
A New Story Arc in the Popular Series Examines the Legends of the Owls
At the end of Book 8 (reviewed on this site), Coryn has taken his rightful place as king of the owls, and Book 9 begins with the wise, old Ezylryb on his deathbed, directing Coryn and his uncle, Soren, to read his ancient and original copies of the Legends of Ga’Hoole.
As they open these precious manuscripts, the reader is transported to yet another world, in some ways similar to the one we have come to expect from the series, but stranger, more magical, and perhaps, more frightening.
The First Collier - Guardians of Ga'Hoole - Review
Grank is an old owl, writing in first person the story of his life. He speaks of his childhood as “a time of chaos…magic and strange enchantments…evil spirits, and worst of all, a time of hagsfiends.” The demon owls whose names are tossed about in the previous books, but whose existence seems unlikely, are revealed as atavistic blasphemies: creatures reverting to a form when the noble owls and the base crows had not yet evolved as separate creatures, but were primitive “crowls”.
The hagsfiends are more than mere troglodytes to owl society. They are possessed of truly evil powers, “nachtmagen,” and can hypnotize good owls with their startling yellow eyes, take control of their gizzards, and, Grank worries, could “spell the end of owlkind as we knew it.” The tenuous peace, which Grank, as advisor to King H’rath, tirelessly brokers every year, is shattered when the haggish influence spreads.
Dark magic is fearsome to the owls, but Grank has a secret, shared only by King H’rath and the lovely Queen Siv: his own, good magic. Grank has the firesight, the ability to see events distant in time or space by gazing deeply into the fire. He also has knowledge unknown to other owls, as he has lived Beyond the Beyond, struck up a friendship with a Dire Wolf named Fengo, and become the first collier. Together, owl and wolf undertake serious study of fire, and begin to invent the arts of smelting and glassmaking, until war calls him home to the king.
Grank’s world is darker than Soren’s: the magic is more intense, relentless and unforgiving, and the stakes are greater. Lives are cheap, and the deaths of owls are common. There is blood, a fair amount of blood for a children’s book, and gruesome imagery. The hagsfiends are known for decapitating their victims and carrying their heads off on pikes of ice. The good king is an early victim, and the demons are intent on stealing the king’s unhatched son still in the egg, turning him into another demon, and using his power for their own.
One thing burns strong in Grank’s gizzard: he loves Queen Siv, although she can never be his, and knows that he must protect her and her egg if owlkind is to have any future at all. Guardians of Ga’Hoole Book 9: The First Collier, begins another truly epic story arc, set in a time of legend, where honor and valor are the true weapons against the forces of evil. It’s exciting, it has a cliffhanger ending, and propels the series into the realm of the truly epic.
Monica's review of Book 10: The Coming of Hoole.
Read more of Monica's reviews.
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