My rating: ★★☆☆☆
Say goodbye to Soren, the Guardians, the Band, the Chaw of Chaw, the wolves of the Beyond, Coryn, and even the Pure Ones. Because for some reason or other, we’re blasting thousands of years into the past to deal with mythology that was never mentioned in the series until The Hatchling (but mostly The Outcast). And don’t worry your pretty little heads, because this mythology will directly contradict what’s been said before and will confuse the hell out of you.
Actually, you know what? Worry.
I have two massive questions/complaints:
What exactly is Glaux?
Glaux was stated to be owls during the time of humans, but the term is used like a Crystal Dragon Jesus (“By Glaux!”, “Oh my Glaux!” etcetera, etcetera). Then it was said to be the first owl, not the whole group of them. But in The First Collier, suddenly the first owl is called Hoole… which confuses things further as this is a different Hoole from the Hoole of the Ga’Hoole tree, who was named for that first Hoole. (Are you confused yet?)
What the hell are hagsfiends?
During their first appearances, hagsfiends are dead owls from hagsmire, which is the term for owl hell. Now they’re explained to be a cross between crows and owls. More specifically, they are descendant from a species called crowls, which are explained as the common ancestor of owls and crows.
But if the hagsfiends re just another bird species, why are they Always Chaotic Evil? And how can owls become hagsfiends just by hanging around them? Obviously it’s supposed to be that the PURE EVIL rubs off on them, but that only works if they’re actual demons of some kind, not a bird species. Which they were until this book Retconned it. (Are you confused now?)
Really, I feel like Lasky got confused halfway through writing this. Like maybe she took a long break and got her own mythology mixed up when she sat back down to continue. Or she wrote two or more wildly different drafts in which the mythology evolved and when she tried to bring the best of the drafts together, the mythology accidentally got confused. Or… I don’t know, maybe she just thought kids would be too stupid to remember what she said in the previous books?
So, yeah. We’re back at the bottom of the downhill slide from The Hatchling. The prejudice is back in full swing with the invariably PURE EVIL hagsfiends, and with the mythology getting so bungled and contradictory, I’m getting really close to just not caring.
And with the final reveal that Coryn thinks his mother is actually a hagsfiend, not an owl at all, I was really close to throwing the book across the room. You cannot retcon your villain into being a different species from the good guys. Seriously, imagine that these were people instead of birds.
“Le gasp,” Coryn says. “My mother’s too evil to be a _______ like me I think she’s really one of those terrible _______!”
Now fill in those blanks with things like white and black, capitalist and communist, Republican and Democrat, Northerner and Southerner, etcetera. Suddenly it’s offensive, right? That’s because it was offensive all along, and yet so many anthropomorphic and fantasy series try imply that discrimination is perfectly acceptable because it’s not against people. It’s not.
The little owlet Hoole was the highlight of this book. He was sweet and innocent, and since he’d never heard of hagsfiends, he didn’t suffer the ingrained prejudice that the other characters flaunted. I can only hope he’ll stay that way. (Though, unfortunately, I doubt it.)