As the last installment of the Darkangel trilogy, The Pearl of the Soul of the World had a lot to live up to, as well as a lot to wrap up. In the first book The Darkangel, slavegirl Aerial saved the darkangel Irrylath from the misery of his own existence under the power of the White Witch and returned him to his mother’s house. In A Gathering of Gargoyles she undertook another task, in searching for the lost lons to fight against the White Witch in the coming battle and in doing so discovered her own extraordinary heritage. Now the various countries of Aerial’s world have gathered together in a great army to march against the witch, with her husband Irrylath at its head.
But the story begins in the most unexpected way. As the story opens, we find a young woman in a cave deep underground, with no memory of who she is, mute, with a silver pin driven through her temple and a sinister feeling that someone is following her. Although the amnesia plot device may seem cliched to some, Pierce uses it brilliantly by instigating it right from the beginning, so that the girl’s identity and the events that led up to her awakening in the cave are kept shrouded until the time is right (and as it turns out, her forgetfulness plays an important role in the narrative; it’s not just a silly plot twist and it’s not brought on by a bump on the head).
Found by three duaroughs (beardless dwarfs basically), the young girl accompanies them through tunnels and caverns, all the time endangered by the presence of the witch’s evil creatures. Eventually the girl finds a hidden passage to the ancient city of Crystalglass where the last of the Ancients — Ravenna — awaits reveal to her the truth of the White Witch and the world’s history and to give her a final task: deliver a (literal!) pearl of wisdom into the Witch’s own hand.
The girl (as you’ve probably guessed) is indeed Aerial, and when she meets Ravenna her memories return to her. We learn what happened in the space between A Gathering of Gargoyles and the time she found herself in the underground caves, (including the gathering of Irrylath’s army, the rebirth of Avarclon, the equine lon that died in the first book, and Aerial’s newfound reputation as a powerful sorceress). Most importantly of all is the dynamics between herself, her devoted servant Erin, her detached husband Irrylath and his cousin Sabr. Pierce excellently and poignantly weaves the bonds that tie these people together; Aerial’s hopeless love for Irrylath, his seeming indifference toward her, Erin’s devotion to Aerial and her scorn for Irrylath, and Sabr’s sneaky innuendoes to discredit Aerial and snatch Irrylath for herself. It’s certainly a tangled web of intrigue!
As well as these core characters Pierce also keeps good track of the rest of her (by this stage, rather large) cast of characters, all of whom have an interesting and vital part to play in the progression of the story. As such, we have reappearances from Talb, Syllva, Eoduin and the maidens, the Ma’a-mbai, the lons, Irrylath’s brothers and Roshka. Only Roshka was a tad underused — as Aerial’s newly discovered brother I would have liked to have seen more of the bond between siblings. Pierce’s gift is that none of her characters are strictly good or evil, and just as Aerial must cope with her jealously of Sabr and the pain she feels in regard to Irrylath; Sabr herself is not wholly bad, acting as she does out of love for Irrylath. And as for the White Witch… well, I don’t want to give her story away, but let’s just say she is given a name, a heritage and a heartbreaking motivation for the evils she does during the course of the story. Just as a darkangel was once redeemed, so too is there hope for the Witch… if she chooses to take it.
Pierce creates a vivid portrayal of a world; which is hinted at being our own terraformed moon set far into the future. Ideas that Pierce brings into the narrative, such as the reasons behind why the moon was terraformed in the first place and the ultimate fate of ‘Oceanus’, should resonate in the readers’ minds as contemporary statements of our world’s present condition.
And then of course there’s the ending which disappointed some fans. However, in my opinion there was no other possible way for the story to finish. Pierce carefully laid out the elements of the story, and the conclusion makes sense given the facts that she had established. The ending thus takes on a tragic, inevitable and fateful air, reminiscent of all the best love stories. Though saddened, I could understand why things happened the way they did.
For all those who were upset at the conclusion, hope remains. In an interview, Meredith Ann Pierce had this to say:
“Anybody who considers that a satisfying ending is nuts. Take heart! I intend to shift focus to Irrylath and show him as a very human character coming to grips with a life of duty, devoid of personal satisfaction or love. No longer overshadowed by Aerial, Irrylath must forgive himself for his crimes as a darkangel, regain his wings and discover the secret that will set both him and Aerial free. Aerial will learn the high personal cost of surrendering herself, however nobly, to Ravenna’s planetary rescue plan.”
“Here end for a time the adventures of Aerial. The adventures of Irrylath have only begun” — this was the line that Pierce wanted to end The Pearl of the Soul of the World with until her publishers vetoed the decision. Now that we have hope for Irrylath and Aerial, all we can do is wait impatiently. Until then, The Darkangel trilogy is a fantastic set of books.
Darkangel — (1982-1989) Young adult. Publisher: The Darkangel, a vampire of astounding beauty and youth, can only summon his full power when he finds his 14th and final bride. But for Aeriel, whom he kidnaps to serve his brides, there is something about him — something beyond his obvious evil — that makes her want to save him rather than destroy him. The Darkangel — Pierce’s first book, originally released in 1982 — was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a New York Times Notable Children’s Book, a Parent’s Choice Award Superbook, and a Booklist Best Book of the Decade.