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New Release Review


The Son of Summer Stars by Meredith Ann Pierce

The Son of Summer Stars by Meredith Ann Pierce
Book Name: The Son of Summer Stars
Author: Meredith Ann Pierce
Publisher(s): Little Brown & Co.
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: April 1, 1996

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers for The Birth of the Firebringer, Dark Moon and The Son of Summer Stars.

“Little unicorn,” he answered mildly, “attend. We gryphons are not the ones who trespass Ishi’s Vale. But consider: with the birth of your flock’s long-sought Firebringer, does not time at last betide you to depart and reclaim your Hallow Hills?”

Before I begin the final review of Meredith Ann Pierce’s Firebringer Trilogy I have to admit one fact: I had an unhealthy obsession with unicorns growing up.  

This obsession, at one point, led me to have my entire room decorated in the singular-horned creatures. My mother had accented the walls of my room with a rearing unicorn wallpaper, as well as creatively aligning glow-in-the-dark stars in the shape of the mystical beast. Later on, I received a number of pictures and sparkly wall-clock paintings from a friend. Paintings of unicorns nuzzling each other by a forested stream of iridescent froth. Unicorns prancing across grassy fields with a white castle overlooking the exultant scene. Unicorns rearing under a glowing sapphire moon, their white manes and tails capturing the moonlight. You get the extent of this decorative splendor and, I do sheepishly admit, that I miss that old bedroom of mine.

Not only was my room ornamented in unicorn splendor, I read many books on unicorns in the attempt to escape from reality. But as grew older and became wiser to the genuineness of life, my room was eventually dismantled. Those beautiful paintings were taken down and whisked away to wherever they have gone, hopefully to adorn some other girl’s (or boy’s) room. You might be wondering why I am telling you about my childhood room. It is because Pierce had not only answered my desire for unicorns, but unicorns how I imagined them. And while that room acted as a doorway to my imagination, it was a child’s room and I had outgrown it. In the early years of adolescence, I longed for grander pieces of literature, of the echoes of reality and not the makeup of childish youth. 

One of those grand pieces of literature is Meredith Anne Pierce’s Firebringer Trilogy, narrating the story of the dark unicorn named Aljan and his battle to return his people to their ancestral homeland. As I have stated in another review, “Deep down I felt a stirring need for the fluid, raw action,” to shed the cutesy unicorns of my juvenile youth for a more mature one that mirrored my own maturing self. Pierce delivered on that yearning. But enough of my reminiscence, onto my review of Pierce’s final installment to her Firebringer Trilogy.

Aljan is not one of those prancing virgin beasts that graced my walls, he’s a battle-hardened prince of a band of warrior unicorns of a tribal nature, and he’s set on conquering the wyverns that have taken their ancestral homeland. Aljan does not go prancing about in flowery forest glades, laying his head in maiden’s laps or allowing himself to be tamed by princess’, he breaks the norm of the childish ideology of a unicorn and ushers in puberty. He’s not pure, but he’s brave, fierce, wild and real. And like any child entering their teenage years, he starts acting with a sense of responsibility, doing anything he can in order to protect his herd and bring them peace.

In the previous installment, Dark Moon, Aljan journeyed from his home and interacted with humanity who enslaved the daya, or “Renegade” horses and discovered the means of creating fire.  In learning how to create fire, Aljan finally has the means to battle against the vile white wyverns who have taken over the unicorn’s ancestral homeland, Hallow Hills. However, after returning home he encounters a more serious dilemma: the truth of his origin. This sets-off a series of dramatic proceedings that disturb The Firebringer and the rest of the warrior herd, causing trouble with his relationship with his mate Tek, and the “Mad King” Korr, to come to a fiery confrontation:

The king tossed his haggard shoulders weakly, gave up trying to rise. He murmured, “I needn’t listen to you.”

“You do!” Jan burst out. The landscape around him reeled.

“If not because I am your son, Korr, then because I am your prince! Even a king must obey the battleprince in time of war…”

“Prince,” the dark king snorted, refusing to look at him. “You’re no prince. I should have let your sib have the office. I should have acknowledged her at the start.”

Besides the looming dissidence within the tribal society of the warrior herd, there is the contrasting proceedings of peace between the unicorns and their once mortal enemy, the gryphons. This ushering of peace displays Aljan’s maturity as a character and his wisdom that his sire, Korr, was sadly lacking. As in the two previous installments the gryphons acted as a vicious adversary, who attacked randomly, and without mercy. Then the unicorns learned they were encroaching on the gryphon’s land and acknowledged their wrongdoing:

“This was our Vale once,” she [gryphon] said, “entrusted to us by the sky goddess Isha, fold to the sacred flocks of her consort Ishi. Your kind’s coming drove our flocks away.”

“… And at our departure,” the prince [Aljan] answered Malar firmly, “it is my hope that your wind god’s sheep and deer will abundantly return. My people took refuge in this place centuries past. Driven from our home, we never knew we trespassed here. But now our goddess tells us to reclaim ancestral lands. We must depart, but we would not go as enemies…”

In addition to the return of the bestiary gryphons, pards and the malicious white wyverns, new characters are introduced, as well as dragons. From the green-winged tercel Illishar Mended-wing, Jan’s foals Aiony and Dhattar, the “star-strewn” prophet Calydor, and Aljan’s younger sister Lell along with numerous others, it keeps the final book from becoming redundant. Familiar characters do make a return, such as Tek, Dagg and the “Renegade” midwife Jah-lila and continue to grow in The Son of Summer Stars.

Pierce’s writing remains well-paced, fastened with elements of violence, an intriguing system of pagan-like religion and mystical mythology that helps develop each of the races depicted in the trilogy. Mixing with the jarring anxiety of Aljan questioning his entire life, but relinquishing Dark Moon’s undertones of Marxist or postcolonial fundamentals, in favor of an enlightening conclusion that brings all those dim tones into sunnier ones, and everything is resolved gracefully. In the notion of “good vs evil,” wyverns continue to take chief role of being the main antagonist in the trilogy, and the final battles between them and the warrior unicorns is spellbinding and written beautifully, making me envious of her writing skills. Overall, Pierce’s prose reads like a mix between an old fairy tale and the gritty style of an action novel, and who wouldn’t want to read that? 

In The Birth of the Firebringer and Dark Moon the worldbuilding was mainly dedicated to the warrior unicorns. Yet, in the concluding installment lore of the gryphons is expanded, as well as the rest of the races in the series, making final installment detailed and satisfying, and leaving one a good grasp of the world Pierce had created. My only grudge with the trilogy is I wished Pierce had written more installments, so we could remain in the stunningly commanding world she had created. And with fans unable to contact Pierce directly, myself included, many questions concerning the trilogy go unanswered and the desire for more remains long after finishing the book. I do intend on reading more of Pierce’s publications, mainly to satisfy that longing and hope that, maybe someday, Pierce might pick up the pen again and turn-out a novel or two. 

In finality, The Son of Summer Stars makes for a wonderful ending to Pierce’s Firebringer Trilogy. If you’re like me and are a unicorn fanatic, but have grown tired of the saturated innocence of Bruce Coville’s The Unicorn Chronicles, or have read Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn way too many times, and need something to fix that unicorn-itch, you won’t be disappointed in Firebringer Trilogy. In fact, I guarantee if you read any piece of unicorn literature, you would do yourself a favor and read one of the best pieces to grace the genre.

Thank you, Pierce, for writing this wonderful trilogy. You are a real treasure to the fantasy community.


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