Myths and fairy tales have a soft spot in the heart of many a reader. I remember very clearly whiling away my childhood hours with Edith Hamilton’s Mythology or selected volumes of The New Junior Classics. There’s something very satisfying about a story with a point, a story told to illustrate and perpetuate virtuous behavior. The good are rewarded, and the bad are punished – it’s all so much simpler than real life. The Darkangel by Meredith Pierce is such a tale, complete with compassionate, brave, and steadfast heroine.
Aeriel is a slave who has spent her short life as companion to Eoduin, a spoiled but beautiful girl. Eoduin isn’t always kind or generous to Aeriel, but she is sometimes, so when Eoduin is carried off by a darkangel, or vampyre, from the mountaintop while picking flowers, Aeriel is devastated. Knowing that Eoduin’s fate has sealed her own and it is only a matter of time before she is sold into a worse situation, Aeriel climbs the mountain again determined to face down the vampyre and kill him.
The darkangel, beautiful and evil, sees Aeriel and takes her away to his castle in the middle of an empty wasteland. He intends for her to be a serving maid to his thirteen wives, the wraiths who have been sucked dry of blood and soul but still exist earthbound for as long as the darkangel carries their souls on the necklace he wears. Aeriel soon learns that the darkangel takes a bride yearly and is waiting only for the fourteenth before presenting the necklace to his mother, who will reward him for his diligence and make him a true vampyre. When this happens, she will have seven such sons and they will wreak havoc on the world. Aeriel knows she must do something for the wraiths and especially for Eoduin. She knows she must kill the darkangel. But she also sees something inside him that is still unpolluted and she feels strongly the pull of his beauty. Can she save both the wraiths and the darkangel?
The Darkangel was written in 1982, long before vampires and vampire romances came into vogue, and it is not a romance. Not even close. In some ways it does resemble the gothic stories more common in earlier years – the dark castle, the bleak surroundings, and the inscrutable and possibly evil hero. Aeriel herself, how she comes of age and overcomes the obstacles before her, is the true story, however. The darkangel is there for conflict, not romance.
Pierce’s prose has a fairy tale feel to it, with its alternate spellings and word clusters. The setting is the moon many centuries post-settlement, but it is more like a fantasy world with its rivers and deserts and animals that talk. Half the story centers around Aeriel’s reactions to the darkangel’s castle and the wraiths. It takes her awhile to learn how to fulfill her duties in such a strange and barren place. The other half of the story is her quest to find the “strong-hoof of the starhorse” an element of an old rime about the downfall of a darkangel. Both in and out of the castle, Aeriel matures and grows and finds that her good impulses have tangible and magical results that help her along.
While I enjoy a nuanced or even morally ambiguous character as much as the next reader, there are times when a truly good protagonist also hits the spot. And Aeriel is good. She is strong, brave, persistent, and kind. She begins her search for the darkangel bent on vengeance, but soon it becomes more than that and she finds that her compassion, already given to the pitiable and pathetic wraiths, extends to him as well. There were scenes in this book that brought tears to my eyes because Aeriel manages to make good come from evil. If the book has a flaw, it’s that Aeriel, as well as all of the secondary characters, sometimes come across more as a collections of traits than as a real person. But again, this is a fairy tale. Sleeping Beauty is a fully enjoyable tale even if the reader knows nothing about Beauty’s childhood or Myers-Briggs personality type.
The Darkangel is a quick story, well paced and intriguing. Plot points such as the darkangel’s true identity are pretty transparent, but, regardless, I kept turning the pages to see how everything would play out. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I am already on hold for the next one at the library. I can’t wait to see where Pierce is going with Aeriel and her terra-formed moon world.