The Darkangel, by Meredith Ann Pierce
"And damozels twice-seven / his brides have all become: A far cry from heaven / and a long road from home - "
This is one of my favourite young adult novels of all time, and I think that it is criminally overlooked. It is beautifully written, a high fantasy coming-of-age tale, that every young girl should get lost in.
The Darkangel is a glorious adventure book. Aeriel has known nothing but her life as a slave, when her mistress Eoduin is carried off by one of the icari - twelve-winged vampyres, who drink the blood of maidens and steal their souls. Aeriel seeks to avenge her mistress, the only friend she has ever known. In doing so she is captured and forced to serve as handmaiden to the icarus' thirteen wives, now bloodless, soulless wraiths. For the love of Eoduin, and for the enchantment of the darkangel's beauty, Aeriel stays and does what she can to help the wraiths.
She finds help within the lifeless castle, and a quest as well, to bring down the icari and their evil mother, the waterwitch. She travels through the world, facing dangers and growing into the young woman she will become, learning her own strength and courage.
"'Ah me,' she heard him murmuring, 'girl, even your walk has changed. You move straight-shouldered as a princess now, no longer creep and cringe like a little slave.'"
The characters, too, are both complex and understandable. Even the monstrously beautiful darkangel has a heartrending story. When you realize where it is that he made his nest after being released into the world by the witch, you will feel such tremendous pity and start to love him as well.
The setting is one of the strongest elements of The Darkangel - dreamy and moody and atmospheric. It is set on the Moon, which took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out - but the moon after it had been made hospitable for life by the "Nameless Old Ones." Oceanus (Earth) hangs overhead like a blue jewel, creating a shadowy half-light during the weeks when the Solstar is hidden. There is something about the barrenness, the cold empty black skies and constant presence of the stars that has always been so evocative to me. It's as though this book has reminded me of a dream I've only just forgotten ...
This is a book to get lost in. I have reread it many times over the years, as well as the full trilogy which was released much later than the original book, and there is always something new for me to take away from it. I first read this when I was eight, and I'll admit that much of the book went right over my head. Like it being set on the moon. And the Nameless Old Ones are actually humans, from Earth, who went around and made a mess of things, which we have a tendency to do. If you do read this as an eight year old, do not bring the original hardcover copy with the picture of a bare-chested man on the cover to school, or your parents will also be called in to discuss your disturbing reading behaviour. True story.