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Dark Moon by Meredith Ann Pierce

Dark Moon by Meredith Ann Pierce
Book Name: Dark Moon
Author: Meredith Ann Pierce
Publisher(s): Joy Street Books (US) Little, Brown and Company (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy / Unicorns
Release Date: May 1, 1992 (US) September 24, 1992 (UK)

Meredith Ann Pierce doesn’t miss-a-beat with the second instalment of her wonderfully original Firebringer Trilogy, Dark Moon. But before I begin, I feel that the following needs to be stated.

Anyone that might be wary of reading Pierce’s Firebringer Trilogy solely based on the fact that it is unicorn fiction, you are missing-out on a phenomenal trilogy that covers a wide-range of issues that abound in our own world. What Pierce ultimately accomplishes in Dark Moon is the challenging issue of hegemony in a pagan-based society. Therefore, if you’re wary of diving-in because you don’t wish to be judged by the fantasy-based community for reading a “unicorn book”, don’t be. Firebringer certainly isn’t Mary Stanton’s Unicorns of Balinor or Bruce Coville’s The Unicorn Chronicles. Personally, I view Pierce as one of the most powerful voices in the fantasy universe and deserves as much respect for her work as George R. R. Martin or Robin McKinley, for she writes powerfully deep fiction with an adept prose to boot.

Besides her Firebringer Trilogy, she has written The Darkangel Trilogy which garnered the International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, won the California Young Reader Medal and is viewed as one of the earlier, critical fantasy authors that helped give the genre its successful boost. Besides Firebringer and Darkangel, she’s also written the standalones Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood and The Woman Who Loved Reindeer. Lastly, while her fiction is mainly geared towards a younger audience anyone at any age can enjoy her works of fiction.

Now that, we have that out of the way, let’s get into the review.

In Birth of the Firebringer, Aljan discovered the secret of the wyverns and was proclaimed prince of the herd. He is also the Firebringer, the prophesized savior who will lead the band of unicorns back to their ancient homeland, the Hallow Hills, that were overtaken by the evil wyverns.

The moon upon his forehead burned. Somehow, he must find a way to conquer all these enemies and return his people to the Hallow Hills. Legend promised that he could do so only with fire. Yet he possessed no fire and no knowledge of fire, no notion of where the magical, mystical stuff could be found – not even the goddess’s word on where to begin.

Now, he is tasked with the duty of leading the young band of warriors to the ocean to partake in a dance to court for a mate:

“Tonight is Summer’s Eve,” he [Aljan] cried. “The morrow will be Solstice Day. Before first light, as is the Law, all unpaired warriors must depart the Vale for the Summer Sea, there to dance court and seek our mates.”

Before he takes his fellow warriors to the Summer Sea he is challenged by his father, Korr, who wishes for him to reconsider his decision to court the warrior Tek. Disregarding his father’s displeasure at his choice, he and his band set-off for the shore that is steeped-in ancient tradition involving the princess Halla, who sought the help of the herons while fleeing from the wyverns in ages past. Aljan is, greeted by the Windriders and their leader, Tlat, and welcomed along the shore. While everything seems to be at peace, gloom waits on the horizon and disaster strikes. The unicorns, believing the wingcats won’t fly-down from The Gryphon Mountains, are attacked. And while Aljan orders his herd to race into the safety of the mangroves he is overwhelmed by the group of young gryphons who wish for his death. Battered and demoralized by the wingcats, Aljan is swept out to sea to a distant shore. With little to no memory of his friends, his family, his home or even his own identity, he enters into a strange land with an even stranger crisis gripping it.

Meanwhile, with the loss of their battle-prince the king, Korr, begins to mentally slip and ushers-in a flurry of events that could cause the demise of the entire herd. The Law is cast aside to be replaced by Korr’s manic dictatorship, winter is setting-in, food is becoming scarce and anyone who dares challenge the king’s rulership is severely punished. Placed at the center of this chaos, Tek is blamed for the loss of the prince by Korr and is in danger of being killed. Unbeknownst to the rest of the herd or even herself, she carries a secret that could topple Korr’s dictatorship.

While the herd is being threatened, Aljan enters into a society ruled by humans (called “two-legs” by the unicorns) who come to worship him as the Dai’chon or Tai-shan, a sacred deity with his own harem of selected mares. Freedom relinquished for luxury but ultimately for something dark and sinister in nature. Before Aljan (or Tai-shan) realizes this, he escapes his enclosure above the city and goes amongst the populace, discovering the oppressive hegemony that viscously rules over the lower populace. Amongst the peasantry, he comes amongst a gelded work-horse pulling a cart of goods through the street and is deeply disturbed that his luxury results in so much suffering:

“Of course, my lord,” the other [the gelding] was murmuring, “the burdens of gelded commoners need not concern you, dwelling so far above us as ye do, First Stallion to your own sacred broodmares in a stable of the chon…”

Aljan also comes at odds with the city’s ruler, the chon, that by his rebellion causes his near death and the harm of the populace he had sought to help. All the while he struggles to remember his own identity, while challenging the very society itself. Then the whispers of the memory of his former life creep into his consciousness. All he remembers is that he is the Firebringer and he must discover how to create it.

Darker in tone and emotionally-powerful, Pierce manages to create a novel that chiefly reads like a dystopian fiction rather than a high fantasy. Her literary background (Master of Arts in English Literature and Creative Writing) bled-through the pages with undertones of Marxism, Post-Colonialism and masterful creative style that will keep one soaring through the pages.


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