Darkstalker (Wings of Fire: Legends) by Tui T. Sutherland
Published by Scholastic on June 28, 2016. Jacketed hardcover of 400 pages. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.
Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.
The cover: A gorgeous profile of the title character by Joy Ang graces this cover. Darkstalker is a NightWing, so he’s colored in different shades of black, however he has a silver teardrop by his eye, which signifies magical abilities. It’s also an indication of his parentage, as his father is an IceWing. The dragon is set upon a simmering red background that hints that he may not be the noble individual he states he is. For this review I couldn’t have his beautiful face and the title of the book, so I chose to show the title of the novel, which is at the bottom of this frontpiece. I recommend to the curious to find a complete image of this illustration to see what Ang has created: the image wraps around to the back of the book, showing the spikes running along the his neck and wings. There is also a quote from the novel when Darkstalker recognizes his place in the world, but I won’t spoil it. The jacket design is by Phil Falco. Overall grade: A
The premise: From the inside front cover: “Three dragons. One unavoidable, unpredictable destiny. This is the beginning…of the end. In the SeaWing kingdom, a young prince learns he is an animus — capable of wonderful magic that comes with a terrible price. In the mind of a NightWing dragonet, a thousand futures unfold — and almost all of them, she knows, lead to disaster and destruction. And under three full moons and the watchful eyes of his NightWing mother and IceWing father, the most powerful dragon Pyrrhia will even know is clawing his way out of his egg: Darkstalker, the dragon who will change the world forever. Long before the SandWing war, lifetimes before the Dragonet Prophecy…darkness is born.” This summary is a good setup for old and new readers of Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series. Having only read one book in her Wings series, I know that this story sets up the backstory for the others to follow. I like that. I enjoy stories with characters that change the world, for good or bad, and I enjoyed the previous book I read, so I’m expecting I’ll like this as well. Overall grade: A
The characters: Darkstalker is a great character. From the beginning the reader is expecting him to be evil. He’s not — he’s got some odd thoughts and interesting ideas about doing things, but he’s not “evil.” As the book progresses and he falls in love, with Clearsight, and he shows the strongest love for his mother, Foeslayer, and sister, Whiteout, it seems as though all the uneasiness that he generates, especially in his friends and family, is unjustified. Like paring an apple, Sutherland slowly pulls away at his image until his true nature is revealed. I got some very serious Anakin Skywalker, Revenge of the Sith vibes from him; however, the dragon is written much better. Clearslight loves him and he loves her, but there is a problem with their relationship. Her ability to see all possible futures is as strong as his magical abilities, so she can see some of the hazards that he poses for her, and their people’s, future. She is the voice of reason and the reader, constantly doing all that she can to keep him from doing the wrong thing, as anyone would do for the one they love. This only makes the revelation in Chapter 27 stronger and sadder: this was a fantastic gut punch. Fathom is a SeaWing, a reluctant animus who is trained by his Uncle Albatross, and older and peculiar animus. There is an incredibly tense event in the first third of the book that changes young Fathom and his friend, possible sweetheart, Indigo. After this event, Indigo undergoes the most drastic, yet most understandable, change. There are several other characters in the novel, but these four are the core focus of the book. Sutherland has each chapter told from a character’s point of view and this increases the reader’s understanding of each character and how they feel about others. Plus, it makes the book incredibly interesting. Overall grade: A+
The settings: Pyrrhia is the setting, the land of the dragons, with the Kingdom of the Sea and Night Kingdom getting the focus. The castles of each are described exceedingly well, with the Kingdom of the Sea being extremely vivid. There are also several remote locations where characters go to have private conversations. These are very rural and wild environments and Sutherland had me wishing they were places that I could travel to. Overall grade: A
The action: Wow. Simply put: Wow. I’ve mentioned it several times, but the opening sequence involving Fathom and Indigo is riveting. It will remain in the reader’s mind as long as it does in the two young dragons’ minds. After this, the book simmers. And simmer it does! Things are being done (or are they?), creating questions and doubts in characters’ minds. These put a wonderful amount of tension in the book that when exposed, in Part Three, it’s an explosion of horror (at what’s done), relief (that it’s revealed), and worry (with how this will effect the future of the world). This was a fantastic element of the novel. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: A magnificent ending. The heroes are faced with a moral dilemma where death is not an option for the villain. How is this villain to be stopped? In the most simple, lovely, smart way. This was an utterly perfect climax. Yet, author Sutherland does one better: she has two characters explain to some younger characters, in the epilogue, about the nature of good and evil. It’s an amazingly concise discussion, where there are some questions (as there will always be with evil), but it’s done without talking down to the reader. Outstanding. Overall grade: A+
The final line: A magnificent addition to the Wings of Fire series and a complete work that needs no prior reading to enjoy. A fantastic story of how good can become evil. Darkstalker is recommended reading for all ages. Overall grade: A
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