The First Collier, by Kathryn Lasky, was published in 2006 by Houghton Mifflin. It is the sequel to The Outcast(but technically a prequel to the series).
First Collier is an interesting installment in the
Ga’Hoole series. It’s the first book in a prequel trilogy that details the
start of the legends of Ga’Hoole: the owl king Hoole and his war with the
hagfiends (and presumably his founding of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole). This
first book deals with Grank, the titular first collier, and how he comes to
receive Hoole’s egg and cares for it. Appropriately, the book ends with Hoole
Lasky really steps up the fantastic elements in this
one, with the owl-crow hagfiends and their yellow eye magic, Grank’s own
magery, and, of course, the ember of Hoole and the egg of Hoole. It’s also the
first Ga’Hoole book to be in first person, which actually helped out a lot. It
completely changed the usual ebb and flow of Lasky’s writing and helped make
things less stiff and clunky and cheesy. Rather than everything feeling stilted
and there being an abundance of telling rather than showing, the first person
narration lessened that a lot, though there were a few instances of rather
However, despite some of the new things, I think I’m
simply getting bored of the series. Every book feels the same. Lasky does not
do enough to change things up (the first person helped, as did some of the
elements of the world, but not enough); I feel as if I am reading the same
story over and over again. It reminds me a bit of Erin Hunter’s Warriors
series, another set of books that I ultimately got tired of as they were all
too similar. The First Collier had
interesting bits to it, but overall everything was done in the same delivery
and style—there was even an Otulissa replacement! The only thing that changed
was the terminology. I’m halfway through the Ga’Hoole series, but I’m not sure
if I want to finish or not.
The Outcast is full of cheese and fluff and represents a cheap version of a prophecy fulfillment story. The problems I spotted in The Hatchling return tenfold in this book, to the point where not even nostalgia could win the day.
Let’s start with Nyroc/Coryn. Coryn consistently
speaks in grandiose, cheesy statements, and is given advice that is also
grandiose and cheesy. He’s not as familiar or as memorable a protagonist as
Soren; in fact, he’s a rather flat character who is pretty much flawless in
every way. The only thing Coryn struggles with in this book is fear that other
people will confuse him with his mother. He does everything perfectly because,
as this book tells us multiple times, he is the next owl king and everyone
knows it and welcomes him and whoever doesn’t recognize that fact is evil.
The side characters also speak declaratively and
pithily. Even the introduction of the dire wolves and their clan system is
derailed by the clunky dialogue and lack of plot. Too much happens too fast,
and there wasn’t enough buildup to this whole idea of a new owl king for the
plot to be in any way coherent or believable.
Lasky tried to take this series in a different
direction, but the lack of adequate development and buildup, lack of
worldbuilding in terms of Hoolian knowledge (something she tries to rectify
with her three prequels about Hoole) and prophecies, and the awkward, cheesy
dialogue only make The Outcast a
chore to read and difficult to finish.
Growing up, I really enjoyed books seven and eight of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series. I liked the idea of a young owl overcoming his upbringing and seeking truth and new beginnings. The prophecy part was just an interesting addition for me. Now, of course, however many years later, I have different feelings about it (though the nostalgia factor is always there).
The Hatchling continues where The Burning left off—with Nyra and her egg. Nyroc is the son of Nyra and Kludd, and is destined, or so he is told, to be the next great leader of the Pure Ones. However, thanks to his friend Philip, a rogue smith, and his own firesight, Nyroc discovers the truth about his mother and the Pure Ones and runs away, eventually seeking to go Beyond the Beyond, a mysterious place full of wolves and volcanoes, to find the legendary Ember of Hoole.
As an adult, I can see many of the flaws and shortcomings of this book that I didn’t notice as a child. Nyroc’s change towards the Pure Ones is too abrupt and is handwaved away by his “strong gizzard” and by several actions taken by Nyra. A convenient enough reason for a children’s book, but too unsatisfying for me. The introduction of a random prophecy embedded into the Hoole stories is too sudden and not foreshadowed enough, although I liked that it is Otulissa, and not Soren, who discovers it and sets out on a quest.
But, I do like that Lasky is continuing to expand and build on her owl world, that she is introducing new concepts—however abruptly—and new places and new incentives for the characters. It’s exactly what an extended series should do, and she’s doing it (and she does it again in book 13). And, as I said, I didn’t notice any of these things when I was a child—I just enjoyed the story. So that’s a credit to Lasky.
The Burning, by Kathryn Lasky, was published in 2004 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to The Shattering.
The Burning is the last of the six-book fleck/Pure Ones/St. Aggie’s arc before Lasky takes the series into a different direction. As a last book, it wraps everything up as it’s supposed to: there’s tension and uncertainty to ramp the tension up before the final battle, the villains are defeated, and great acts of bravery are performed by multiple characters.
Yet there is still much left to be desired with this “closing” of the first Soren arc (for he comes back later on in the series). The time jumps are bothersome, leaving great swathes of character’s actions to be explained in commentary or as an afterthought later on. This includes Gylfie and Otulissa leaving the Glauxian Brother’s Retreat, Soren’s insistence on not teaching the St. Aggie’s owls to fight, and Gylfie’s appeal to the Northern owls parliament. In fact, Gylfie’s entire courageous arc, where she escapes from pirates and brings an army to help out the Guardians at just the right moment, is entirely overshadowed by a brand-new viewpoint character, and her most amazing moment is never even seen, though we get some of its effect later on when she meets back up with Soren at the battle.
In addition to those odd jumps, Lasky decides to have the battle between Kludd and Soren end in a rather strange way, though at least that decision makes more sense than the random jumps in time. We get a fight between Soren and his brother, but the end result is strangely anticlimactic and unsatisfying. In fact, it seems to have been done purposefully to preserve Soren’s purity than for any other reason. Or perhaps it was to show how different Soren is from his brother—though that, of course, isn’t a necessary distinction to make since we already know that Soren is far and away the better owl.
Anyway, despite my grumblings, I still thought The Burning was a good end. It wraps up the Pure Ones arc very neatly, and it leaves room for some more growth to the series with the very brief reveal at the end with Nyra. The missteps and the strange choices are probably due to the fact that the last couple of books were published in the same year, so Lasky likely didn’t have a lot of time to really think about the choices she was making.
The Shattering as always been, in my eyes, the weakest of the first six Ga’Hoole books. I’ve always viewed reading it with a sort of dread, or exasperation. The tale of Soren’s sister and the trials she faces in this book just never piqued my interest.
Perhaps it’s the cheesiness of the dialogue and some of the scenes. These books have never been the best in terms of writing, but this book has too many moments where things felt too clunky, or too amateur, or something. It’s especially noticeable when Primrose is worried about her friendship with Eglantine, and during the mealtimes.
Important things do happen in this book, but they seem almost unimportant. There is quite big news concerning Nyra, foreshadowing books 7 & 8, and the big reveal at the end is appropriate menacing, but everything feels like such a throwaway, filler meant to take up a book.
In addition, even the plight Eglantine finds herself in feels weak. Things happen far too quickly, and Eglantine overcomes obstacles too quickly. Despite the threat of shattering, Eglantine seems more like a gullible kid than a victim of a devious plot. There is simply too much that wasn’t done in order to make things move smoothly and make the threat more menacing.
While moving the plot along in some directions, The Shattering mostly stalls, creating a threadbare plot that relies on cheesy dialogue and undeveloped characterization. Eglantine is more of an annoyance than a hero in the book, which is a shame since it’s so heavily focused on her. It’s a step in the wrong direction for Lasky and the Ga’Hoole books.
Lasky continuously finds new ways to amplify the threat of the Pure Ones in each successive book of the series. They start out as a mysterious rumor, to a dreadful shadow, to a fully realized evil. In The Siege, if the author’s note didn’t make it clear enough, the Pure Ones are basically the Nazis. As the title suggests, they lay siege to the Ga’Hoole tree and the Guardians have to fight them off.
The first half of the book, though, deals with the infiltration of St. Aggie’s to weed out the Pure One spies. That’s right—Soren and Co. become spies in order to catch other spies. It’s a great little callback to the first book, and also shows just how far the characters have come in terms of strength and courage. And there’s a great reveal in this book—let’s just say a character in the first book returns in a surprising, amazing way.
Lasky has simplistic views of morality and good and evil laced throughout the book, so while it’s perfect for children, I found it a trifle tedious and boring at times. The long bits of dialogue are especially hard to read. And in this book, Lasky herself stated she “modeled” Ezylryb’s speechs after Winston Churchill’s, and it shows. Ezylryb’s speeches have a ring of familiarity to them, and one strong enough that I had to wonder if Lasky was phoning it in, relying on someone else’s material to make her point rather than try and create speeches of her own. It fits the stark lines she has drawn, but I do prefer a little bit more nuance. Adult tastes opposing the target audience of the book, I know.
I found some confusion at the end in regards to Dewlap’s role, as it is never clearly explained, but overall the book is well balanced, with lots of setup at the beginning, a decent action-filled scene at the end, and lots of setup for the next two books in the series. I’m not a fan of certain aspects of the writing style, but I’m still drawn to this series and what it can teach its audience about good versus evil.
Ever since Soren was kidnapped and taken to the St. Aegolius School for Orphaned Owls, he has longed to see his sister, Eglantine, again. Now Eglantine is back in Soren’s life, but she’s been through an ordeal too terrible for words. And Ezylryb, Soren’s mentor, has disappeared. Deep within Soren’s gizzard, something more powerful than knowledge tells him there’s a connection between these mysterious events. In order to rescue Ezylryb, Soren must embark upon a perilous quest. It will bring him face-to-face with a force more dangerous than anything the rulers of St. Aggie’s could have devised-and a truth that threatens to destroy the owl kingdom.
I usually have a pretty good memory of what happens in books, and even though my reading of The Journey and my reading of The Rescue were separated by a couple of weeks, I felt going in that I had a pretty good grasp of the world. However, the first chapter left me wildly confused, unsure if it was my memory or if Lasky had messed up.
For example, I’m fairly sure that in The Journey Ezylryb was the leader of the weather chaw and Elvan (or Poot or another owl) was the leader of the colliering chaw. However, in this book, Ezylryb is described as the leader of both. In addition, Soren keeps referring to Ezylryb as his “beloved” teacher, yet his sentiments in The Journey are disgruntlement that yields to respect (but not to the extent shown here). Perhaps it’s me, or maybe it’s Lasky. Either way, it took me a little bit to get into the novel.
Because of this confusion, I didn’t get as absorbed in The Rescue as the first two books. Some flaws/gaps in the worldbuilding stood out to me a lot more. For example, how did the flecks become magnetized? And is a fire caused by coals really hot enough to demagnetize them?
Other than those issues, The Rescue does a lot to expand on the mysteries revealed in The Journey. There’s also a huge reveal in this book that I remember shocked me silly when I first read these books. I think there should have been a bit more lead-up, but as it stands, it’s a great reveal and makes things more personal for the main characters.
Issues with worldbuilding details aside, The Rescue amps up the danger and intrigue, has a shocking reveal, and makes the stakes even higher for our intrepid band of owls. The ending is really cheesy (I’m not a fan of the songs and poems), but this book, and the series, is the perfect sort of adventure story for kids.
It began as a dream. A quest for the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, a mythic place where each night an order of owls rises to perform noble deeds. There Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger hope to find inspiration to fight the evil that dwells in the owl kingdom. The journey is long and harrowing. When the friends finally arrive at the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, they will be tested in ways they never dreamed of. If they can learn from their leaders and from one another, they will soon become true Ga’Hoolian owls—honest and brave, wise and true.
The Journey picks up right where The Capture left off: Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger on their way to the Great Ga’Hoole Tree. And, despite what the title suggests, they make it to the Tree in the first third of the book, where even more things are discovered about the world of the books and of the main plot in general. Lasky is doing her best to create a rich, complex world, but it can be confusing sometimes. How did these owls get such knowledge of science? Why do they know their Latin species names? Why do they have books? I know, I know—it’s fantasy. But this is clearly a post-human world (“the Others” is the name given to humans in this book). What happened to the humans, and how did owls rise to become the dominant bird species?
I’m probably expecting a lot more than I should from a children’s book about owls!
The society of the Great Ga’Hoole Tree is a lot like…I hesitate to say Hogwarts…let’s just say a school. It seems any owl who arrives is welcomed into the community, and they are taught various classes until the day arrives when they are picked for a special “chaw.” Soren, the main character, gets picked for weather interpretation and colliering (which basically just means “coal mining”), and reveals hidden depths of gizzard intuition (since he’s the main character and all), attracting the attention of the old Screech Owl Ezylryb.
There are lots of new characters introduced, as well as new aspects of the owl world, so The Journey is chock-full of interesting concepts and worldbuilding. The book as a whole is still mainly set-up, though there’s a mysterious “you only wish” added onto the villainy of St. Aggie’s—something apparently far worse and may be related to the babbling, stunned owlets that the Guardians discover towards the end of the book.
The Journey builds a lot more of the owl world, though not much happens to advance the plot. More questions are raised than are answered, and though the whole concept of the Ga’Hoole Tree and the system surrounding it are cool, it leads to a bit of confusion in terms of how things got that way (at least to me). In addition, you can tell things are building up to some sort of climax, but at the moment it’s unclear how or what it is. Lasky generates a lot of mystery with the “you only wish,” but it’s frustrating to not get any answers.
The Capture, by Kathryn Lasky, was published in 2003 by Scholastic.
Pushed from his family’s nest by his older brother, barn owl Soren is rescued from certain death on the forest floor by agents from a mysterious school for orphaned owls, St. Aggie’s. With new friend, clever and scrappy Gylfie, he uncovers is a training camp for the leader’s own nefarious goal.
Guardians of Ga’Hoole was one of my favorite book series growing up. I don’t remember how I discovered them (maybe the first few were given as a Christmas gift?), but I ended up getting every single one that came out. My favorite part about them (at least, the first six) is the gorgeous illustrations that adorn the inside front and back covers.
It’s been a while since I’ve read them and a lot of details have escaped me, so it was almost as if I was reading The Capture for the first time (almost). From the beginning, Lasky develops the “owl culture” of the Ga’Hoole series, complete with slang, profanity, and detailed information about owls themselves (such as species, flying, eating habits, etc.). The world is a post-human world, populated entirely by animals and it seems the only “sentient” ones are owls (to be honest, I’m not sure it’s revealed to be post-human until later in the series…this book reads as straight up “fantasy animal world”).
The series, as far as I can remember, is divided up into multiple arcs, so The Capture sets the stage for the first arc. St. Aggie’s is introduced, with its penchant for brainwashing (“moonblinking”) and desire to obtain the mysterious flecks, more valuable than gold (it’s not obvious, but there are several clues in this book that the flecks are iron). The mysterious, mythical Ga’Hoole Tree and the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole are the hopeful destination and the incentive of the characters. And of course, our intrepid band of heroes are introduced: Soren and Gylfie, the main two characters for the majority of the book, and then Twilight and Digger, who join up with them at the end of the book.
The Capture is a good start to the series, introducing a lot, setting up the world, and leaving enough mystery to carry on to the next book. The world is a little odd to get used to, at first, and the characters are sometimes a little bit stilted in dialogue (perhaps due to the oddity of the world). The villains are straight-up cartoonish and melodramatic, and they’re not present enough in the book in order to really seem as a legitimate threat (although, granted, the biggest enemy in this book is moonblinking). However, a lot of good groundwork is sown here—The Capture is, at its heart, merely a set-up story for the world Lasky is going to develop throughout the series.
I’m excited to reread this series again because in my memory, I thought the series should have ended at book eight (possibly six, even), but Lasky continued, (presumably) due to popularity. I’m looking forward to rereading everything to see if, yes, I still think that way, or if there is some merit in the last half of the series. And, of course, I’m eager to see if I will still enjoy the series as much as I did when I was younger.
A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, by Kathryn Lasky, was published in 1996 by Scholastic.
The Pilgrims, as they came to be known, traveled in a small cargo ship, the Mayflower, for two miserable months of bad food, unfit drinking water, vicious storms, and sheer boredom on a leaky old vessel that had never been intended for human cargo and lacked even the most basic amenities. Mem, one of the 34 children among the 102 people on board, tells the story in diary entries. Almost as bad as the journey was what the travelers found when it was over. Mem’s story is one of incredible courage in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles, but it is also a story of real people with all their foibles, who refuse to give up no matter what happens. In the course of these inspiring events, Mem herself almost gives up, but a sense of humor and her hopes for the future carry her through the worst of them.
My new reading project (because I clearly like setting myself massive reading goals) is to read all the Dear America books in chronological order. Dear America (and its spinoffs) is a series that is near and dear to my heart. I own several of the books and I read them over and over again. I’m excited to see if my favorites back then are still my favorites now.
A Journey to the New World starts this chronological journey off, with Mem, the Pilgrim girl, stepping foot onto the New World and Plymouth. The book vastly understates the sort of trials the Pilgrims must have gone through in that first winter, a winter that killed off half of the population, but, of course, this book is targeted for children and so must gloss over things like that. Lasky does get across that people die (including people near and dear to Mem), so perhaps it’s not so understated. Things aren’t as chillingly tragic as in other Dear America books, though (I’m looking at you, Across This Wide and Lonesome Prairie), or perhaps that’s just the narrator’s fault.
Some of my favorite Dear America books really breathe life into the protagonists so they are not just a vehicle for getting across information about the time period; unfortunately, Mem is not particularly memorable (ha! “Remember” is not memorable…okay, I’ll stop). She does seem to be just a mouthpiece for telling the reader about the first year of the Pilgrims in America; there’s some personal aspects to the story but nothing deep enough to establish more than just a peripheral connection. Some parts of the book seem mechanical, which make the more heartfelt parts seem awkward and disjointed, creating an uneven pace for the entire book.
A Journey to the New World is definitely informational, which was, I believe, the initial point of the Dear America series in the first place, but it lacks heart and depth. Mem is not a particularly interesting protagonist, and the trials of the Pilgrims are slightly understated—though the dedication to depicting the relationship between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims is admirable. However, I do think that this book, though shallow, perhaps, to an adult, would be just the right sort of thing for a child.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Land ahoy!” The call from the crow’s nest cracked the dawn. Hummy’s and my eyes flew open…we all hurried out. Unable to believe the words, our eyes wide in the half-light of dawn. Several of us crowded along the rail. The sailors saw it first, the faint, dark line against the horizon…..But within minutes of searching the horizon with our eyes, Hummy and I began to see the same….’Twas not a wisp of dream but real. It had taken us all of 65 days but finally we are here. This be the New World and it doth fill my eyes for the first time.