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Literature / The Darkangel Trilogy

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Speculative Fiction / Planetary Romance trilogy written by Meredith Ann Pierce in the 1980s. The backstory is that long ago, humans terraformed the Moon, but eventually things got out of their control and they returned to Earth (known as Oceanus), leaving behind a race of people who are similar to humans but adapted to live in the low-heat, low-oxygen environment. The humans who originally colonized the Moon are viewed as legendary, almost godlike figures called the Ancients.


In the main body of the trilogy, a young slave girl named Aeriel sets out to rescue her mistress when she is kidnapped by a darkangel (a creature akin to a handsome, ruthless, winged, soul-drinking vampire). Although she soon finds that her mistress is beyond saving and she is pressed into service as a maidservant for the previous thirteen wraithlike “brides” of the darkangel, she discovers she has one year in which to stop the darkangel from claiming his fourteenth bride and destroying her land forever. But it isn’t only the darkangel at work; there are forces far beyond any mortal’s comprehension at war, and Aeriel eventually finds herself at the center of it all, complete with an ancient prophecy and a star-crossed love.

Titles in the trilogy:

  • The Darkangel
  • A Gathering of Gargoyles
  • The Pearl of the Soul of the World

Provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: the Edge Adamantine. It can perform surgery without spilling blood. Given the prevalence of Lost Technology, it might be Sharpened to a Single Atom.
  • The Ace: Aeriel looks up to her clever, brave, beautiful mistress Eoduin, the darkangel's thirteenth bride, as an older sister. Aeriel's habitual sense of inferiority puts her more easily under the thrall of the darkangel's glamour.
  • Adrenaline Makeover: Aeriel Took a Level in Badass (and hit a growth spurt) during her sojourn in the desert, and returns good-looking enough that the darkangel deigns to marry her, where he once thought her hideous. He considers it particularly attractive that she's no longer a Shrinking Violet.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: The darkangel decides Aeriel is beautiful enough to warrant becoming his fourteenth and final bride, or else that it’s just not worth the trouble of kidnapping anyone else. Subverted when Aeriel goes along with it and eventually falls in love with him when he is restored to human form.
    • Less climactically, the suzerain of Orm, who hypnotizes Aeriel into apathy to gain her consent, and then bricks her into a wall when she refuses his advances.
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  • A Protagonist Shall Lead Them
  • Arc Number: 7 and to a lesser extent, 14. This follows directly from the seven darkangels, who overthrow seven lons, who carry Syllva's seven sons into battle against the seven darkangels. Fourteen is also the number of Soul Jars on the darkangel's necklace and thus the number of brides he takes and years he occupies Avaric.
  • Action Girl: Aeriel learns to fight hand-to-hand from the chieftess Orroto-to; Erin receives her sword from Aeriel; and they along with Syllva (who shoots down one of the darkangels) and Sabr the bandit queen lead the Westron and Istern armies against the White Witch. Bernalon, Marelon, Zambulon and Elverlon are female as well.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: Terraineans are white (not pale beige), Mariners are black (not dark brown), Pirseans are either copper or pale amber, Berneans are blue, Zambuleans are green, Isterns are mauve...and the list goes on.  An unusual example in that this does not imply strictly to characters coded as white; while most characters' coding is difficult to suss out, Mariners are clearly coded as black (aside from being literally so), as are the Ma’a-mbai and other Pendar nomads (despite their skin tone being described as "dusky rose" at at least one point) and the last surviving Ancients.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife
  • Ambiguous Innocence: The titular darkangel still has very much the attitudes of a child (and a rather nasty one at that), despite being chronologically about thirty. Given his maker, this is somewhat justified.
  • Apocalypse How: Long ago, the Ancients fled back to Oceanus, but were completely wiped out by an unknown catastrophe.
  • Beautiful Slave Girl: Aeriel is this throughout the first book, first as Eoduin’s slave, then later when she’s in service to the darkangel—though she doesn’t view herself as beautiful.
    • Though she was considered a bit of an ugly duckling at first due to racial heritage making her look unlike the people she served.
    • Erin subverts this somewhat in the second book - she is a beautiful girl raised from infancy as a slave, but the nature of her beauty and her personality are not the usual flavor of this trope.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Played with.
  • Because Destiny Says So
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: This is the most important aspect to Aeriel's character, to the point of it being the trilogy's Central Theme. Absolutely every victory she has comes as a direct result of her kindness to others.
  • Bedouin Rescue Service: the Ma’a-mbai.
  • Big Bad: The lorelei.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Subverted – much of the "exotic" vocabulary, like lorelei, syndic, satrap, suzerain, rani, are seldom-used but legit English terms, often loanwords, or Gratuitous Latin coinages like equustel and leosol.
  • Chained to a Rock / Fed to the Beast: This was to be Erin’s fate, in order for the villagers to placate their local darkangel, until she was rescued by Aeriel. Fed to the Beast is subverted in that they thought the darkangel wanted to marry the girl, not eat her.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Aeriel’s wedding sari and walking staff.
    • Also, the pearl of the soul of the world, which Aeriel originally thought was a lampwing’s egg; though there was a little foreshadowing on that one.
    • Averted with the ivory dirk, which broke the first time Aeriel tried to use it.
  • Collapsing Lair: The ice fortress Winterock after the defeat of its Load-Bearing Boss. This turns out to have benefits besides wanton destruction, as much of the world's missing water was bound up in it and the desert turns into a wetland overnight.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Aeriel realizes she’s passed from one land into another when the locals suddenly have different skin and hair colors. Lampshaded in-text.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Almost literally, as the Ancient domed city of Crystalglass is actually "NuRavenna", named for the Italian city.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Ravenna passing on her legacy to Aeriel after she’s reunited with Irrylath.
  • Disney Villain Death: Dirna plunges off the temple cliffs of Orm, pursued by gargoyles.
  • Downer Ending: The ending of the last book. Aeriel is eternally set apart from everyone except Erin and forced to spend her life repairing the universe instead of ruling beside Irrylath, with whom she’s finally celebrated her long-awaited wedding night only hours previously.
    • Bittersweet Ending depending on one's opinion of various other characters and how healthy their relationships were. In a post-Twilight world, is it such a bad thing for the girl to NOT end up with the vampire she loved self-destructively? Instead, she has Erin, who loves her freely.
  • Empty Shell: Icari's brides, known as wraiths.
  • Evil Matriarch: Oriencor.
  • Eye of Newt: Anti-undead elixir is distilled in hoof of starhorse.
  • Fairytale Motifs: Marriage to a monster, Impossible Tasks, and most specifically waking one's husband while creeping on him by spilling hot lamp oil on his shoulder, are references to the myth of Eros and Psyche or "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." See also Scheherezade Gambit.
  • Fish People: The lorelei has gills and webbed fingers. (Perhaps because she's going to Oceanus?) She lives in a sinister lake and keeps a variety of aquatic abominations in it, including dragons and a talking "mudlick".
  • Flaming Sword: Erin’s glaive, Bright Burning.
  • Friend Versus Lover: Erin and Irrylath despise one another so much they come to blows of their Cool Swords over it. Erin thinks Irrylath doesn't deserve Aeriel's obsessive love of him; he thinks she's a traitor in a moment of paranoia.
  • Greek Chorus: They don't break the fourth wall, but the wraiths and later the maidens form an undifferentiated group who speak and act virtually as a single character. The wraiths are so destroyed that they can't be told apart, while the books simply skip listing all thirteen maidens. The two who appear as individuals are the eldest Marrea, and Eoduin whom Aeriel knew when she was alive.
  • Hammerspace: Aeriel's velvet bag from the first book.
  • Hero of Another Story: Irrylath's adventures travelling across Westernesse in pursuit of Aeriel in A Gathering of Gargoyles, including shipwreck and a bandit queen who turns out to be his cousin, which he mentions only briefly. Meanwhile, the duarough is also busy offscreen, collecting two of the gargoyles in Gathering, and liberating the duaroughs in Pearl.
  • I Gave My Word: Irrylath honors his promise to the Avarclon, even though for all he knows it might result in his immediate death and it does contribute to his being forever separated from Aeriel.
  • I Have Many Names: Heron has a different name for every shape he assumes.
  • It Was with You All Along: The answers to the riddle-rimes, usually. Especially in A Gathering of GargoylesAeriel is the princess, the tree is the apricok tree in Bern, the wand given wings is her heron-headed walking stick, the lons are the gargoyles, and the arrows are the pins in their collars – justified in that the book's quest plot is about going to ask an oracle for a solution, not actively trying to solve the puzzle. The wording and emphasis of the rimes are changed subtly after the true interpretation becomes clear.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: After Aeriel accepts that she will have to take up Ravenna’s legacy and live apart from the rest of humanity, she tells Irrylath to marry Sabr because she thinks Irrylath likes her and she will make him a good queen, even though she hates her.
  • Impossible Task: Aeriel is required to spin clothing on an empty distaff for the wraiths, who are too frail to bear the weight of any kind of fabric. Aeriel succeeds when she develops enough empathy for the wraiths that she can spin them thread made out of her compassion.
  • Invisibility Cloak: Aeriel’s daycloak.
  • It May Help You on Your Quest: The fruit of the magical apricok tree. And the gargoyles, for that matter.
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: Aeriel’s adventures throughout the terraformed Moon, especially in the second book. See also the spoiler listing under Downer Ending above.
  • Kissing Cousins: A love triangle in which all three of the participants are cousins: Sabr is Irrylath's cousin on his father's side, and Aeriel is his cousin on his mother's side. None of them consider this to be any sort of bar to their romance.
  • The Lancer: Erin is Aeriel's "shadow", her most devoted friend and her Foil: both ex-slaves, orphans and darkangels' brides, whose very names sound alike, but Erin is black, short-tempered and a loner where Aeriel is white, mild-mannered, and always making allies.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Aeriel in the third book, after being stuck with the Witch’s pin. Possibly a subversion, since she apparently loses her ability to speak.
  • Like Cannot Cut Like: We know Bright Burning is badass because it's the only thing the Edge Adamantine can't cut.
  • Literal Change of Heart: Aeriel cuts out her own heart to save Irrylath.
  • Living Weapon: Wing-on-the-Wind/Wind-on-the-Water, although she’s not always explicitly a weapon, more like a tool.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Irrylath.
  • The Lost Woods: The forested hills of Bern, a black, wraith-haunted woodland that's increasingly dry and dead the higher Aeriel climbs towards the pass into Zambul where the darkangel of Bern roosts.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The hungerspice that the suzerain of Orm feeds Aeriel makes her stay with him into something like this.
  • Love Martyr: Aeriel starts out as one.
  • Love Redeems / Redemption Equals Life: Why it was possible to convert Irrylath from a darkangel back into a human.
  • Loyal Animal Companion: The gargoyles, especially in book two.
  • MacGuffin Escort Mission: Ravenna sends Aeriel to give her daughter the pearl of the soul of the world.
  • Magic Carpet: Aeriel and Irrylath fly from Avaric to Isternes on a sail made from the darkangel's lost feathers, turned white en route by the Witch's scream. Afterwards Irrylath uses it as a security blanket.
  • The Marvelous Deer: Pirsalon is a huge golden stag, although as The Grey Neat hunted by the suzerain of Pirs—which Aeriel recognises as her gargoyle Mooncalf—he looks more like a scrawny ox.
  • Matriarchy: Isternes. Every country Aeriel sees has a different form of government; Esternesse is ruled by the Lady, Syllva, who regrets only having seven sons and would prefer to pass her power to her sister's daughter. The soldiers and priests are women, and the men wear veils.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Aeriel and Irrylath, after Ravenna replaces her mortally-injured body with a far longer-lasting model.
  • Meaningful Appearance: Aeriel's eyes are originally described as "fig-green,” once as “emerald,” and later as "peridot.” After Aeriel’s travels in the second book, they are widely regarded as a symbol of her supposed magic powers. Her green eyes and fair skin also give her a strong resemblance to the White Witch (the Witch is bloodless like the darkangels; Aeriel is sun-bleached white from her original mauve skin and yellow-green hair.) She doesn't know it until the end of the story, but it's one of the reasons Irrylath is uncomfortable with her.
  • Mix-and-Match Creatures: Elverlon and Ranilon (the gargoyles Eelbird and Monkey-lizard) are respectively a bird-of-paradise with a snake's tail, or cockatrice, and a human-sized bipedal salamander with bat wings.
  • Never Learned to Read: Aeriel, the world's closest thing to an atomic physicist.
  • No Body Left Behind: People of the moon tribe turn into ashes when they die.
  • No Woman's Land: A curiously literal variant: every woman in Pirs has disappeared. The suzerain can only get his name back on his wedding day, and the women of Pirs view marrying a nameless unperson as a Fate Worse than Death, so they've literally gone underground rather than be forced into it.
  • Noble Wolf: Bernalon or the Beast, Greyling the gargoyle.
  • Offered the Crown: Six different countries, to Aeriel, but she turns all of them down.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The lorelei's aquatic mereguints vs. Marelon the Feathered Serpent of the Sea-of-Dust.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Well, except for turning to stone in sunlight. And the fact that it’s spelled “duarough". They're a race bio-engineered to be the technicians of the underground terraforming equipment that keeps the world habitable...which apparently means you should be short, blunt, and braidy.
  • Our Gargoyles Rock: The darkangel keeps half-a-dozen stony-hided, howling, starved beasts chained on the battlements of Tour-of-the-Kings as his watchdogs. Though they are terrifying, Aeriel pities them and tames them with food, and sets them free before her wedding to the darkangel. During her journey across Westernesse in A Gathering of Gargoyles, she finds them attacking the darkangels of the countries through which she travels, and discovers that the Witch has offered a ransom to get them back. It turns out they're the overthrown lons, or Ancients' guardian beasts, of Bern, Zambul, Pirs, Rani, Elver, and Terrain.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: In Westernesse, ghosts walk at noon, in the darkness when Oceanus eclipses Solstar – Aeriel meets the Avarclon in the desert at noon and doesn't realise that he's dead. The souls of the dead that have been held captive ascend into "deep heaven" and become stars, but Aeriel's maidens descend as mere flames to urge her off on quests. Less benignly, the woods of Bern are filled with parched, papery revenants who suck life at a touch, that are the bloodless, soulless remains of the local darkangel's meals.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: Terralon, or the gargoyle Raptor, mate of the sfinx.
  • Our Souls Are Different
  • Our Vampires Are Different
  • Panthera Awesome: Pendarlon the sun lion of Pendar, and the winged panther Zambulon, or the gargoyle Catwing.
  • Parental Incest: The lorelei and her "sons”.
  • Passing the Torch: Ravenna, being herself mostly dead and unable to heal the world of the wrongs done by the Witch, passes her torch (or pearl, as it were) to Aeriel, which might be a good thing for the world but is effectively a Diabolus ex Machina for Ariel.
  • Patchwork Map: Each country is distinguished by a different biome, skin color, and government. The mountains of Terrain are ruled by the sibyl, satrap, and syndics, and its people are white. Next door are the plains of Avaric, a kingdom whose people are golden-skinned. Next again is the desert of Pendar, whose people have a skin tone described alternately as "dusky rose" and "cinnamon" and live in bands with informal chiefs. The City of Isternes is ruled by the Lady and its people are plum-colored. In the Sea-of-Dust are coral islands whose people are black. On the west shore are the forested hills of Bern, blue-skinned and ruled by bandit chiefs. Inland is Zambul, green-skinned people ruled by landowning majises, the only country shown with both woods and fields. North is wooded Pirs, ruled by the suzerain; the people are described alternately as copper or pale amber. Rani (rose-skinned) and Elver (teal-skinned) are not visited in the course of the story. And under all of this are vast cave systems inhabited by the duaroughs.
  • Phantasy Spelling: Almost every plot-related noun is spelled "uniquely".
  • Planetary Romance
  • Precursors: The Ancients, also known to Aeriel as the Unknown-Nameless Ones, who brought the world and its peoples to life before jetting back to Oceanus for a nuclear war, leaving behind a single scientist to try to make the world self-sufficient. Plot-related artifacts the Ancients left lying around include the Edge Adamantine, the heron, the Torches on the pilgrimage route, and the Feasting Stone.
  • Pretty Boy: The eponymous darkangel is eerily beautiful although that's mainly because he still has a soul; fully-transformed darkangels are gaunt, ashen, dead-eyed, feral, and merely eerie. Irrylath with his humanity regained is even prettier.
  • Prophecies Rhyme All the Time
  • Riddling Sphinx: Inverted, the sfinx of the temple of Orm interprets riddles – of the "the answer is right in front of you" variety – in concert with the sibyl.
  • Rightful King Returns: Played straight with Irrylath, egregiously averted with Aeriel.
  • Romantic False Lead: Sabr – zig-zagged, as it’s made quite possible that she may end up as a legitimate Love Interest for Irrylath sometime after the end of the written trilogy.
  • Sand Is Water: Played incredibly straight with the Sea-of-Dust.
  • Servant Race: the duaroughs are largely this to the Ancients. Subverted by Oriencor when she actually enslaves some and turns them against the Ancients’ purpose, even though she is half-Ancient herself.
  • Scheherezade Gambit: In book one, Aeriel prevents the darkangel from killing small animals (and possibly her) for amusement by telling him stories. Her final story is of Dirna and Irrylath.
  • Shout-Out: Imrahil the last king of Avaric (Syllva's husband and Irrylath's father) shares his name with a character from the grandfather of High Fantasy, The Lord of the Rings.
  • Shrouded in Myth: By the third book, Aeriel has become this to the world at large.
  • Sidekick: Erin, to Aeriel. Taken Up to Eleven at the end of the third book.
  • Soul Jar: The darkangel drank his brides' blood but collected their souls in vials for the lorelei. Getting them back so they can die properly is the wraiths' main preoccupation. The lorelei's palace is also a freezer full of souls, who ascend to heaven after its destruction. And Ravenna transfers a copy of herself into the pearl of the soul of the world.
  • Soulless Shell: Most of the Witch's minions, including the full darkangels. Contrast the characters whose souls have artificial bodies, like the Avarclon, Melkior, and Aeriel.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Aeriel and Irrylath, to heart-wringing effect by the end of the last book.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Aeriel leans towards this in her time of service to the darkangel. However, it's important to note that her initial adoration of the darkangel's beauty is eventually broken once she returns from the desert. It's a crucial plot-point that she's able to operate outside his thrall.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology: The pearl of the soul of the world: the sum of human knowledge stored in a moth's egg.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Erin masquerades as a boy for much of her travels with Aeriel in the second book.
  • Taken for Granite: Duaroughs turn to stone if exposed to sunlight.
  • Tangled Family Tree: The leaders of the seven darkangel-corrupted countries and Isternes are very closely related by the end of the trilogy. Irrylath's mother Syllva is the Lady of Isternes, whose seven sons ride the lons into battle and are invited to rule their respective countries after Aeriel refuses the crowns, with the exception of Pirsalon's rider Hadin, who becomes the heir of Isternes. Syllva's long-lost sister Eryka married the late suzerain of Pirs and became the mother of Aeriel and her twin Roshka, who becomes the new ruler of Pirs after their father's brother is presumably deposed. Meanwhile Irrylath's paternal cousin Sabr has been the queen of Avaric-in-exile since his father's death and Syllva's return to Isternes, and might eventually marry Irrylath.
  • Tears of Blood: Syllva is said to have wept these when she thought her son had drowned.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: The Feasting Stone in the temple of Orm is an artifact of the Ancients that transports offerings to them in their far-off cities by first disintegrating them. It apparently hasn't weathered the centuries too well though, as it disintegrates them very, very slowly.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: The darkangel abducts Aeriel to spin and weave for his wraith wives, who apparently need new clothes. All in a day's work for a tiring-maid, until she's informed that the wraiths are weighed down by any material not spun from emotions on a magic spindle. At first she can't produce anything, but has a breakthrough with a coarse, brittle thread made of fear and loathing. She finally learns to spin a weightless golden thread of love, with which she weaves their garments and her wedding sari.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Irrylath. Big time.
  • Unobtainium: Water, oddly enough. The lorelei needs the world's water in order to make rocket fuel. The lunar 'water' also contains a third element that keeps it liquid in low temperatures, which Aeriel serves to the darkangel as a wedding toast. There's also "Ancients' silver", the Fantasy Metal needed to make darkangel-killing arrowheads.
    • Souls are pretty important too, in that they exist independently of the physical vessels they power, and the White Witch drinks them like they're protein shakes.
  • Underwater Kiss: Of the sharing oxygen rationale after plunging into the Mere. Little do they know that the recipient has already been given Nigh-Invulnerability.
  • Walking Wasteland: Full darkangels. The smarter ones move around their territory to avoid destroying it beyond habitability.
  • Wandering Minstrel: After her apprenticeship telling stories to entertain the darkangel (tough crowd), Aeriel pays her way as a storyteller on her pilgrimage across Westernesse, inadvertently seeding her own legend and spreading the word about the White Witch by recounting her adventures.
  • We Can Rebuild Him: The dead Avarclon, killed by the darkangel, is resurrected as a Clockwork Creature (with his soul called back from deep heaven) by the priestesses of Isternes using the hoof that Aeriel retrieved from the desert where he died.
    • Aeriel is later rebuilt as an organic construct by Ravenna after the removal of the Witch's pin kills her.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The suzerain of Pirs has a pretty significant role to play in the second book, but after Aeriel escapes him he's never seen or mentioned again. His fate remains entirely unknown.
  • White Hair, Black Heart: Irrylath in his darkangel form.
  • Winged Humanoid: The eponymous darkangels, with their dozen black wings.
  • Winged Unicorn: The Avarclon, or "starhorse" (or "equustel".)


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