My good buddy JN let me borrow this one. He said it was decent, and, since he has exquisite taste for an eleven-year-old boy, I decided to give it a shot.
The tales of the Owls of Ga’Hoole begins where every owl begins: a hatching. But Soren Alba, a Barn Owl from the Forest of Tyto (Tyto Alba is the scientific name for barn owls. Nice one, Ms. Lasky), is not the one hatching; he’s awaiting the birth of his sister, Eglantine. His older brother, Kludd, is a bully, but his parents, Noctus and Marella, are loving owl parents who patiently and gently teach their young owlets all about being an owl.
But when Soren is only a few months old, his life is changed forever when he falls out of his family’s tree and is abducted by the owls of St. Aegolius. St. Aggie’s is a mysterious institution: the owls here spend their days working and their nights sleep-marching — that is, they march around in the bright moonlight, trying to sleep, and are subsequently hypnotized by the moon’s rays. Soren is assigned a number to replace his name, but he is determined to remember his family and get back to them.
Along the way, he makes friends with Gylfie, a smart Elf Owl, who immediately sets to work trying to figure out a way to escape St. Aggie’s so that they can return to their families.
As fantasy series go, this one’s not terrible. It’s fun enough to engage your attention, and I found myself wanting to know what would happen next. I do have a few nitpicks, but these are common problems that I have with children’s literature today.
First off, the characters tend to swing back and forth between extremes of emotion. Look, authors, kids aren’t as dumb as you think. They can pick up on subtlety, so you don’t have to have your characters constantly on the brink of despair in order to get kids to sympathize with your characters.
Also, the exposition is a little clunky. The way that Soren and Gylfie arrive at certain conclusions can be a little cheesy.
Finally, what’s with all the martyrdom? I don’t want to spoil those who haven’t read it yet, so I won’t elaborate, but I did find the martyrdom in the story to be a little over-the-top. So, yeah, St. Aggie’s is a dangerous place and these owls are ruthless. I get it.
Last week, JN came up to me at church and asked if I’d started reading the book yet. I replied that I had, and that it was good so far. He smiled, and then sighed a world-weary sigh. “I’m having trouble finding a good author,” he explained.
I feel you, JN. There’s a lot of dreck out there for kids, these days. I guess you could do a lot worse than Legend of the Guardians.