Soren the barn owl flying in a battle with a torch in his beak.

“Guardians of Ga’Hoole” Book Series Review

The cover of The Capture by Kathryn Lasky.I was really surprised by these books.  You see, I made the mistake of watching a film called “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.”  The film was awful, and I made the mistake of assuming that the book series the film was based on would be just as bad.  Later that year, another bad film came out based on my favourite TV show, The Last Airbender, and there were many who assumed the show must be as bad as the film.  Eventually I realized I was being a hypocrite, and so I decided to read the Guardians of Ga’Hoole Series by Kathryn Lasky.  These books surprised me because unlike the film, they’re really good.

Guardians of Ga’Hoole

Guardians of Ga’Hoole consists of fifteen books (not counting the prequel or spin-offs, which I’ve yet to read).  It’s a fantasy series in a similar vein to Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, although it has more magic in it than any of the Redwall books I’ve read.  Lasky takes a lot of inspiration from both history and mythology, particularly the Arthurian legends and World War II.  There’s even a battle speech that’s clearly inspired by the one in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The story takes place in a future where humans have become extinct and owls have developed complex civilizations somewhat reminiscent of our Medieval period.  The owls have organized themselves into several kingdoms, including the forest kingdoms of Tyto and Ambala, the icy N’yrthgar, and the technologically advanced island kingdom of Ga’Hoole.

The Plot

The series begins with the protagonist Soren (a young barn owl from Tyto) as he falls from his nest, pushed by his evil brother Kludd.  Soren is snatched up by owls whose job it is to kidnap abandoned owlets in the name of their cult.  There Soren meets Gylfie, an elf owl who’s also been captured by the owls of Saint Aggie’s.  The two become friends and join up with two other owlets named Twilight and Digger.  Eventually fate leads Soren and his newfound companions to the legendary Great Ga’Hoole Tree on the island of Hoole, where they train to become knights.  Unknown to them is that another cult—one many times worse than Saint Aggie’s—is secretly preparing for war.

Dark Owl Fantasy

Soren the barn owl flying in a battle with a torch in his beak.First thing’s first; these books are dark, especially for a children’s series.  There’s quite a bit of violence, and many of the deaths are incredibly gory.  Even outside of the gory deaths, there are a whole lot of scenes that are just plain disturbing.  Of course, that’s anything but a bad thing, as the dark tone is one of these books’ many strengths.

Although many of the characters fit nicely into the archetypes you’re used to in this genre, there are a number of quite interesting ones.  Character development doesn’t always take the path you expect it to take, which is part of what makes the series compelling.  The characters’ backstories and the history of the owl world tend to be some of the most interesting parts of the story; in fact, three whole books are devoted to the historical figures of Grank and King Hoole.

Check the Glossary

Throughout the series, the reader is introduced to a huge variety of owl terms, to the point of almost having to learn a whole new vocabulary, and the story is increasingly told in the Hoolian language.  Examples include “yoicks” instead of “insane,” “scroom” instead of “ghost,” and numerous terms describing owl-specific concepts.  This isn’t necessarily a problem—I quite enjoyed this aspect of the world-building—but some readers might find it frustrating to have to learn what amounts to a whole new dialect in order to understand these books.  The battle scenes are generally really good, but occasionally an important few sentences end up being a bit unclear, and I often found myself going back and reading such passages again to make sure I’d understood it.

Stirring Speeches and Horrible Hagsfiends

Although I’ve already hinted at this, the battle speeches are one of the highlights of the series, as each draws inspiration from some famous speech, often from World War II.  The villains are nothing short of frightening, from the Pure Ones to the Hagsfiends and everything in between, and many of their actions are sure to traumatize younger readers; again, this is a good thing in the case of these books.

Conclusion

Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, Digger, and Coryn, knights of Ga'Hoole.As usual, I don’t want to spoil too much about the story; indeed, I worry I might have spoiled too much as it is.  If these books sound interesting to you, then I enthusiastically recommend them.  They’re really good.  If you like Redwall, then you should give Guardians of Ga’Hoole a try, as they’re somewhat similar.  Just be warned that you might not want to read them to very young children.  If you’re an adult reading them for yourself, however, then despite their supposed status as kids’ books, they’ll be easily dark enough to satisfy your need for disturbing images.  And unlike much of the stuff out there that advertises itself as “for adults,” this disturbing story is well-written and a great read.  Speaking for myself, I certainly enjoyed it.

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