Many Thoughts are Provoked

Well, I finished The Darkangel Trilogy.  I had gotten through most of A Gathering of Gargoyles last night, and finished it this morning, leaving plenty of time to read The Pearl of the Soul of the World in its entirety.  I think, having reread The Darkangel, I was in a better position to make some predictions about the events of the second and third books.  I was usually right, but there were still a number of surprises in store.

I think the biggest surprise is that the trilogy doesn’t end on a completely happy note.  Don’t get me wrong, good triumphed over evil in a general sense, but “good” is defined as “that which benefits us.”  Evil is still evil though.  But the powers of the world aren’t necessarily good or evil, and they have a will of their own.

There was more evidence of the science fiction basis in these two books, and we even saw several ancient machines on Aeriel’s travels.  But by and large the trilogy still reads to me as fantasy.  In fact, the term “magic” is used nonironically by those beings who do understand technology.  So there are both in this world, though the tech is ancient and in great need of maintenance and generally unseen by the common people who live without it.

So many fantasy tropes can be seen here, including the Hero’s Journey and the Chosen One.  Let’s not forget the Prophecy that we’ve been gradually learning more of since book one.  It’s actually a very straightforward one, and once you understand that, you can easily predict how the book will go.  Still, I’ve seen so many books that didn’t handle their tropes well and this one does do better.  The Darkangel Trilogy is no literary masterpiece, but they’re good, strong books that have stood the test of time.  I mentioned back in August that these are over twenty years old – The Pearl of the Soul of the World was orginally released in 1990.

I also want to comment on the term “vampire” (or “vampyre” as it’s spelled here) and how it is part of what got me to pick up these books.  I can definitely be a sucker for vampire books (though I have standards), and will usually afford it a second glance (only outside the paranormal romance section).  And the vampyres of Pierce’s world do drink blood and souls…but they aren’t really vampires.  Yes, they are dead things, yes they destroy the living, yes they hate the light.  But the term “vampyre” is only used in the first book.  “Darkangel” is seen more often, but usually they’re referred to as “icarii” (singular: icarus) for their numerous black wings.

We know there are six after Irrylath is restored to himself, and we know that they make different choices, but in truth they are merely tools of the Oriencor, she who is known as the lorelai.  The icarii exist collectively, but not separate from each other or their mistress.  They’re an obstacle to be overcome, nothing more, which is not how I perceive most vampire books.  I find it hard to even consider The Darkangel a vampire book, simply because the vampirism is the least of the focus.

Before I get into spoiler territory, I’ll say that I did enjoy reading these books and will be attempting to shelve them shortly.  I say “attempting” because I am most definitely running out of space.  Unfortunately, I think space is going to remain short for the foreseeable future, which really makes me twitchy.

There are three things I want to talk about here.  The first is the romance between Aeriel and Irrylath that we waited three books to be consumated.  And they did get to have sex – once.  It took the three books for them to overcome their mental blocks and admit that they loved each other.  I will admit that Aeriel did have a forboding from the second book onward, as if she knew that she was not meant to be with him.  The bit with Sabr though felt a bit…tacked-on.  As if “oh no, we must have a love triangle!” wormed its way into the author’s thoughts.  It does make me somewhat vindictively happy that, when the trilogy ends, Irrylath is still refusing Sabr, though who knows, she might wear him down in time.

I’m not sure that I approve of either pairing though, because it is made quite clear that Sabr is Irrylath’s first cousin on his father’s side, and Aeriel the same on his mother’s.  That just screams inbreeding and cannot possibly be good for the potential offspring of either pairing.  I suppose we should be glad they’re not siblings, but still, not a great goal.

Secondly, there’s the fact that just when Aeriel has finally achieved her goal, defeated the White Witch (hmm, wonder if that’s influence from C.S. Lewis?) and now is able to live her life freely, it turns out that she is, as I predited, Ravenna’s daughter in spirit and now has to go do Ravenna’s job of keeping the world going.  (Ravenna is one of the Ancients who came and terraformed the moon on which this all takes place.  She remained behind when the planet Oceanus recalled its people.)  And yes, as I also guessed, Ravenna rebuilt her body.  Not quite a clone, though she looks the same, but out of hardier materials.  Aeriel is still a biological creature, but she can survive a great deal more and for much longer now.

This is why I say the book does not have a completely happy ending – Aeriel must give up her heart’s desire to live with Irrylath in favor of fulfilling the duty laid on her by Ravenna.  True, we’ve seen her built up into as much a figure of myth as Ravenna herself, and most consider her to be a sorceress though from what we’ve seen, she doesn’t actually have magic.  Simply luck and a care for those around her.  Of course, depending on your magic system, luck can make or break a mage.  Luck can even be defined as magic.  But that’s beside the point.

You could even say that Aeriel is a Jesus archetype in some ways.  She was born a princess, raised a slave, became a demon’s servant, brought said demon back to the light and became his wife in name, gathered legendary creatures, met a woman who is worshipped as a goddess, tried to persuade said woman’s daughter with facts and her own innate goodness, then became the goddess’ heir after the daughter refused to believe or change and was slain for it.  There’s a lot of Christian imagery that you can pick out in that list, if you so choose.

Lastly, I do wonder if this book is meant to have homosexual undertones.  We meet Erin in A Gathering of Gargoyles and she attaches herself to Aeriel, becoming her figurative shadow (Aeriel’s skin is very light in color, while Erin’s is black).  Considering that Aeriel’s actual shadow is burned away at the end of the second book, and that Erin is referred to in prophecy as her shadow, it ends up being quite literal.  Erin is devoted to Aeriel above and beyond anything else.  She does not wish to live in the land she knew as a slave, nor does she wish to return to the people she no longer remembers.  Instead she clings to Aeriel.  We don’t get much information about Erin’s thoughts or motives for why she does this, and Aeriel herself doesn’t think of Erin in a sexual light, but that doesn’t mean Pierce wasn’t writing them with that in mind.

Actually, that ending reminds me of how Legend of Korra ended, with Korra and Asami walking hand in hand into the Spirit World.  I didn’t pick it up for myself watching the episode for the first time, but it seems the creators meant for this to be read as a potential lesbian relationship.  Again, there wasn’t anything sexual in the gesture, but does it really have to be about sex?  I may be aromantic, but there’s plenty of asexuals out there who do seek out relationships, even if they don’t go further than cuddling.  (Please note, some aces do have sex and asexuality is a spectrum of individuals making the choices that are best for themselves and their lives.)  Regardless, if I hadn’t known that about Legend of Korra, I might not be reading this into The Pearl of the Soul of the World.

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