My rating: ★★☆☆☆
Yeah…. so, I had hoped that the second book in the series would start to bring up my opinion of the story, but it didn’t. I have a lot of complaints with this one.
This is definitely written for the wrong audience.
As I said previously, I really think this book suffers for its audience. There’s a paradox in the subject matter; on the one hand, Lasky wants to deal with themes such as Stockholm Syndrome, cannibalism, and child soldiers, but at the same time, she has to write these themes so they’re accessible to her audience… which, unfortunately, is elementary and middle school students.
It’s really ridiculous at times. One minute, the characters will be discussing cannibalism of children and even unhatched fetuses, and yet the next minute they’ll be vowing to beat the “badbutts”. Really? The cannibalistic badbutts?
I can’t place the subgenre. Are we talking straight anthropomorphism of owls? Or are we talking magical owls?
At this point in the series, I can’t tell if it’s fantasy or just anthropomorphism. Are the owls just absurdly smart and humanized? They do, after all, have weapons, armies, kingdoms, and even a religion. Or is there some kind of magic going on? The problems with finding Ga’Hoole implies it; weather that causes people to fly past the Ga’Hoole tree without seeing it because they don’t have clear hearts or whatever certainly screams of magic. But the reveal that flecks are science, not magic implies an effort to keep magical elements out of the story.
As I’m writing this based on notes I took a few weeks ago, I have since read most of the later books. The owls are indeed magic, but more on that in later reviews.
This is so racist.
Mrs. Plithiver makes me nauseous. She was kidnapped as a child and forced to serve Soren’s family. In the present day, she is the family’s exceptionally devoted nanny, and she has developed an intense reverence of owls and inexplicable hatred for other kinds of birds (at whom she spends at least a quarter of her lines launching what are obviously racial slurs). Not only is her character revoltingly reminiscent of mammy stereotypes, she’s also exceptionally racist herself.
So, where does her racism come from? Oh, that’s simple. The main characters all have lines devoted to their hatred of other bird species. The narrative makes it astoundingly clear that owls are good, clean, and noble, and all other birds range from “comes close to owls” with eagles to “murderous scourge of the earth” with crows to “dumber than shit” with seagulls and puffins.
And no one is ever offended by this in-story. The seagulls laugh uproariously at “wet pooper” jokes, the puffins are a source of self-depreciating humor, crows are straight-up Always Chaotic Evil serial killers with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and even the characters who object to the offensive jokes (Otulissa, Baran) aren’t upset that the jokes are prejudiced–just that they’re crude and ignoble. Are you serious?
Meanwhile, the “wet pooper” jokes make no fucking sense to begin with! In-universe, the owl’s main justification for their species discrimination is that their digestive system is nice and clean, whereas all other birds leave shit lying around because they don’t have owl’s noble gizzards to enable yarping pellets. Except, you know, that’s not true. All birds have gizzards, including those totally disgusting crows. And, for the record owls do excrete typical white bird droppings. So this is me calling you on your bullshit, oh noble Guardians.
This could be pardonable as a cultural character flaw if not for one key element that isn’t yet revealed in this book: the major enemies of the series are the Pure Ones. What’s their evil, evil sin? Racism.
Where are the people, and where is this supposed to take place?
Except… what happened? How did we go extinct? Did we just up and disappear? Whatever happened, it was cataclysmic enough that the best survivalist species ever was completely wiped out, but ever other common North American creature is still roaming the forests without the faintest hint of any evolution via natural selection.
So apparently, we managed to cause an Apocalypse that left all of our buildings intact for thousands of subsequent years (bullshit, because stained glass and paintings in churches wouldn’t last that long–and yet they appear in the story inside the crumbling stone buildings) and wiped out every single human and nothing else. Whatever Apocalypse that is, I would love to hear about it. All I’ve got is some kind of rapture event.
Meanwhile, I can’t tell where the heck Ga’Hoole is supposed to be. The region isn’t remotely recognizable, and it changes from forest to desert to arctic in a relatively tiny land area. What gives? It’s not like enough time has passed for the plates to shift significantly.
*grumble* Normally, I wouldn’t complain about something like that. It’s a fantasy map–who cares if it’s ambiguously placed, right? Except this is supposed to be a future of our world, so I’d like to see a future of our world, not some half-assed “it could be anywhere!” map that doesn’t make any geographic sense.
Why is Ga’Hoole a myth?
The first book and part of this one builds Ga’Hoole up as this mysterious kingdom that hasn’t been located in hundreds of years. It’s so mysterious that most owls don’t think it really exists.
…except a group of kids manage to find it with relatively little trouble, and the Guardians are incredibly active in the Southern kingdom. Day-in and day-out, the collier and weather chaws are flying into forest fires across the kingdom. The navigation and search-and-rescue chaws are routinely saving hatchlings, returning them to their parents if at all possible. (Meaning the parents would certainly know something was up, if not exactly what.) The rogue smiths across the kingdom are actively spying for the Guardians. So how does no one notice they’re there, when they’re everywhere!
I just don’t know what to do with this series.
I really wanted to like it. And yet I’m finding myself wishing I hadn’t wasted my time reading it. (It’s fifteen books long; that’s a lot of time I could have spent on other series!) I really can’t understand how this series is as popular as it is.