Sunday, March 13, 2022

REVIEW: Guardians of Ga'Hoole, Book 1: The Capture (book) by Kathryn Lasky

The Capture is the first book in Kathryn Lasky's Middle Grade (or younger YA?) fantasy series, Guardians of Ga'Hoole. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.


Soren is a young Barn Owl living with his parents and two siblings, his older brother Kludd and his younger sister Eglantine. There have been disturbing reports of owlets going missing recently, but it's not something Soren is particularly worried about...until his parents leave on a long hunting flight and Soren suddenly finds himself pushed out of his nest. He can't fly and is completely defenseless. Before anyone is able to help him, he's snatched away by an owl who takes him to St. Aggie's, an owl orphanage. 

Soren knows that he isn't really an orphan, but none of the adults at St. Aggie's seem to care, and things get worse from there. Each owlet is referred to by a number rather than their real name, everyone is made to undergo something called a "sleep march," and questions are forbidden. Soren clings to his sense of self with the help of a new friend, an Elf Owl named Gylfie, and the two of them work together to find a way out of St. Aggie's and back to their families.

My eldest niece is into animal books right now. I know she's reading Erin Hunter's Warriors series. I don't know if she's discovered this series yet, but I figured I'd give them both a shot and see what they were like.

St. Aggie's was a weird and disturbing place. I don't know if Lasky based it off of anything in real life, but I found myself thinking of assimilation camps. The owlets were fed an inadequate diet of crickets, deprived of the ability to sleep properly, and subjected to "laughter therapy" or forced plucking if they didn't unquestioningly follow the rules. Most were prevented from ever becoming true adult owls. It was a lot darker than I expected.

Just a warning: several characters are killed in this, and their deaths have an emotional impact on the main characters. I appreciated that their deaths resulted in more than just a paragraph or two of sadness, although I imagine it could be tough for sensitive younger readers.

Lasky included several species of owls in this book, and their different traits and abilities added some nice variety. I don't know much about owls - their physical abilities seemed to be accurate, but I wondered about things like Mrs. Plithiver, a blind snake who served Soren's family, keeping their nest clean and free of maggots and insects (some googling indicates that this happens in real screech owl nests, although I'm still not sure about barn owls).

Overall, I thought this was decent, although I'm not sure yet whether I'll be continuing on - I'm interested to find out who's behind St. Aggie's and what their plans are, but I also have lots of other things on my TBR mountain calling my name.


A map of this book's world and a black-and-white drawing of Soren being taken away from his family.

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