Soren is a young owlet, he lives in his nest with his parents, siblings and nest-maid snake. Soren was happy until he fell out of his nest and was kidnapped by other adult owls. He was taken to a weird place called St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls, where he makes a friend named Gylfie. At St. Aggies they are trying to moon blink owls and brainwash them into doing what they want. Soren and Gylfie are determined to escape, before they are moon blinked too.
I give this book four stars (out of five). I really liked this book, the plot and the characters. It’s very good, in fact out of the three series (Bears of the Ice and Wolves of Beyond) in this connected fictional universe, this one is by far my favourite. This book is about owls and in particular one owlet named Soren.
At the beginning of the story Soren is only two weeks old and is awaiting the hatching of his new sibling, his little sister Eglantine. Soren already has a mean older brother named Klud and is delighted to finally have a loving sibling. All was going well for Soren, he had loving parents, a great sister, a friendly blind nest-maid snake named Mrs. Plithiver or Mrs. P and Klud’s rudeness was probably the worst part of his life.
Until one night when Soren’s parents were out hunting and he was looking at the forest by the edge of the nest hoping to see his mom and dad coming back, when he suddenly fell. This happens often when owlets try to fly but that isn’t what Soren was doing, he knew better and was far too young. Soren called up to Mrs. P from the forest floor, a very dangerous place to be if you’re an owl, but she didn’t know what to do. His parents wouldn’t be back for a while and Klud wouldn’t even try to help him, he even laughing at Soren and tried to stop Mrs. P from helping him.
Eventually, Soren fell asleep on the ground and when he woke up he remembered where he was and called out for his parents. But he was suddenly picked up by another owl, not his parents instead it was an owl Soren had never seen before. This owl carried Soren in his talons and joined many other owls flying the same direction, they all had owlets in their talons. While they were flying Soren managed a small conversation with the owlet closest to him, a type of owl Soren had never seen before, an Elf Owl named Gylfie. She was very small since Elf Owls are the smallest type of owl, Gylfie had tried to fly too soon and fallen out of her nest.
The owls bring all the owlets to this weird place called St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. Here the owlets are given a speech, they’re now orphans and these owls rescued them. Now they’re going to live and learn at St. Aegolius. The owlets are given numbers to replace their names, Soren gets 12-1 and Gylfie gets 25-2, they’re separated into different pits overseen by different owls and instructed to sleep during night instead of during the day. Even though sleeping at the wrong time is very abnormal for owls, they are also made to sleep with their heads up facing the sky and they’re forced to do something called the Sleep March. Many times a night there’s an alarm throughout the Glaucidium where the owlets sleep, when it rings the owlets must march and say their old names over and over again and when the alarm sounds again say their number once and go back to sleep. Asking questions and sleeping in the wrong position are strictly forbidden, there’s even sleep monitor owls who watch the owlets to make sure they’re following the sleeping rules.
When Soren was getting his number he was next to an Spotted Owl named Hortense, who was eager to get a number because she didn’t like her name. She got number 12-8, during their first night there Soren tried talking to her by name but she only responded to her number.
After a few Sleep Marches Soren ended up under an arch that connected to the area he had seen Glyfie in, he was right by the barrier and she was too. She told Soren that the older owls were ‘moon blinking’ them, she explained the moon cycles to Soren and how sleeping under the moon affects owls. It makes them lose their sense of what is real and what is not, moon blinked owls have no sense of self. Once Soren and Gylfie both understand what St. Aegolius is doing to them they try to resist it, they know they can’t sleep under the moonlight so they try to stay awake. Soren later realized why the owlets were made to repeat their own names, because saying them over and over again made them lose their meaning. Soren tells Gylfie and they both stop saying their names, they mouth it or say their numbers but not their names so they can remember them and why they’re important.
By the next day Gylfie had thought of a plan as to how to avoid being moon blinked, she thinks they should just march in place instead of marching around to stay in the shadows. That day Gylfie and Soren both get placed in the pelletorium (owls have unique digestive systems and instead of pooping out waste they regurgitate pellets of what they can’t digest), where their jobs are to sort through pellets and pick out a certain thing called Flecks. They aren’t told specifics about what flecks are just that they are very important.
While working in the pelletorium the other owlets working at Soren and Gylfie’s station start talking almost robotically, and in the midst of the conversation Soren accidentally asks a question. This leads to him being subjected to something called Laughter Therapy where a whole bunch of owls laugh at him and he got his feathers plucked. Afterwards he got sent back to his pit, where he started figuring out a way to gain information without directly asking questions, using his implications and statements.
That night Gylfie and Soren first started talking about escaping St. Aggies, the chambers they’re in are very deep but if they could fly up enough they might be able to get out. Gylfie tells Soren about what happened after he left the pelletorium, she was sent to do a delivery to a different part of the pelletorium. Gylfie noticed this area was higher up and closer to the sky, there were many ridges and small cracks. One of these in particular caught her eye and she wanted to investigate and test out their walking in place theory, to make sure it would work at night. So she marched in place and no one noticed, so she investigated and found an owl guarding something. Without asking questions she manages to discover that this owl named Grimble might not be moon blinked either and might be like them. She finds out he’s guarding a library, with lots of books. Gylfie thinks that flecks have something to do with the library but she doesn’t know why, she’s very curious about the flecks and thinks there is definitely something more going on at St. Aggies.
A few nights later they’re in the midst of a full moon, the moonlight is about at its brightest and Gylfie and Soren are marching in place to stay in the shadows and avoid the moonlight. But Sleep Monitors noticed the same owls in the same place a few rotations in a row, so they got caught and placed together into a small chamber directly under the moonlight with no shadows or cover. They are made to sleep there and look at the sky in the correct sleeping position, and they almost get moon blinked until Soren suddenly thinks of Ga’Hoole.
The legends of Ga’Hoole are known by almost all owls by thinking about them, Soren suddenly felt alert and was able to think clearly. Soren woke up Glyfie and they realized talking and telling stories, especially about Ga’Hoole, helped them stay awake and avoid being moon blinked. The guards couldn’t see them talking and they were able to stay themselves. The next day they act like they were moon blinked, so they were able to get away with it and stay together.
While waiting for their flight feathers to grow in, they were looking around St. Aggies and gathering as much information as they could. They had already learned about battle claws, something owls attached to their talons when they fight. Another owlet formerly Hortense, had talked to Soren and he knew that she had access to a restricted and secret area. So by talking and conversing they were able to get more information from her, they knew she worked in the eggorium but didn’t know much about what was going on inside. With their new information they both wanted to get placed in either the eggorium or the hatchery and learn more about them.
Glyfie managed to get them both entry level positions in the eggorium as Egg sorters. In the eggorium they realised that the owls weren’t just taking owlets but they were also snatching eggs from nests across all the owl kingdoms. Soren and Gylfie’s job was to find eggs of their own species and direct them to a bigger collection of that type of egg. From working in the eggorium they find out that in the hatchery owls are sitting on and hatching the stolen eggs. Glyfie is completely out of the question because she’s so small but Soren has grown enough that he could work in the hatchery despite being a male, there’s a shortage of workers so he’s able to get the position, the hatchery is also one of the highest places in St. Aggies. Glyfie is also promoted to a moss tender, an owlet who sees to nests in the hatchery and keeps them supplied with moss and other materials.
[Spoiler warning, from here on out there are many spoilers to avoid them skip to the last paragraph. Thanks.]
However, they learned more than they expected. Glyfie saw Hortense acting strangely with her eggs,and it turns out she is a spy. She isn’t moon blinked like she seemed, they think she is working with other non-moon blinked owls. Hortense’s Nest was the highest place available to Soren and Gylfie. They’re trying to learn how to fly, while trying to figure out how to discreetly talk to Hortense.
Eventually one day while Soren was on a break and Gylfie was working she led him to Hortense’s nest. They both start talking to her and get her to drop the act by Glyfie revealing that she saw her delivering an egg from her nest to an eagle. At that point she let her guard down and explained what she was doing and how she got there. Her story is very interesting, she isn’t actually as young as they originally thought. She is actually a fully grown and matured owl, where she comes from there is an unnatural supply of Flecks, which have strange properties. They are considered both a blessing and a curse, they give a few owls unusual powers or abilities but also can cause disabilities or weaknesses. They affected her size so she can blend in with the other owlets. In addition to her size, her feathers also didn’t grow right so she could never fly. Knowing she would not be able to fly, she decided to do something useful because she knew she would always be a liability and have to rely on other owls.
In her kingdom they were aware that their eggs and owlets were being taken by St. Aggies, one pair of owls even sacrificed one of their eggs so that other owls could follow the owls that took them. Hortense was able to save about twenty eggs, because she works with Eagles even though most owls are afraid of them and they’ve been rescuing eggs. They will also be able to get Hortense out of St. Aggies but she wants to stay as long as possible, she has even become a hero in her home and community.
The next day Soren and Gylfie go to meet Hortense and she’s saving another egg, but suddenly as she’s dragging the egg out of the nest they hear other owls approaching. Soren and Gylfie are able to hide but Hortense couldn’t hide what she was doing. The Higher Up owls came running in, they had suspected her and were waiting to catch her out. They run forward and attack Hortense, she tells the eagle to save the egg. In the end the eagle managed to briefly scare the owls and get the egg safely but couldn’t save Hortense, the owls pushed her off the edge and off a big drop and she was unable to fly.
After that Soren and Gylfie were determined as ever to escape and their flight feathers had just about grown in, now they had to think about how they were going to learn to fly in St. Aggies. They soon made another discovery, by having an unsettling conversation with a moon blinked owl they find out that vampire bats are visiting St. Aggies every cycle of the moon. They suck the owlets blood to the point where all natural sensations or temptations of flight are removed. Soren and Gylfie even witness this happening to a group of owlets, they know this will happen to them soon so they need to learn to fly and escape as soon as possible.
A big component of flying for owls is belief, if you don’t believe you can fly then you won’t. Gylfie and Soren go back to Grimble to ask for help learning to fly, since they could tell he wasn’t fully moon blinked. Soren and Gylfie hear Grimble’s story as well, one of his owlets was taken and he attacked and killed the owl that tried to take it. More Higher Up owls came and wanted him to join St. Aggies because he was such a good fighter, he didn’t really have a choice and did the best thing he could for his family. When he first got to St. Aggies like Soren and Gylfie he resisted the moon blinking and was given a name and the chance to visit his family a few times a year. But the owls at St. Aggies want to make sure every owl is moon blinked so they occasionally make the mature owls go through the moon blinking too. Grimble says he has been losing himself slowly and he is getting more and more moon blinked overtime, he tells Soren and Gylfie what he knows about flecks and St. Aggies. It was eventually arranged that Grimble will get them clearance to leave the glaucidium so he can teach them to fly.
Grimble told them that they should leave now instead of waiting because there would be thermal winds that night, which would make it a lot easier for them to fly even though Soren and Gylfie didn’t feel ready to fly. When the time came Grimble distracted the owl guarding the library and got Soren and Gylfie in. Inside the library the owlets were starting to fly when suddenly one of the Higher Up owls rushed into the library, but was randomly pulled backwards into the wall by an unseen force.
Soren and Gylfie both lifted up and were able to fly and escape St. Aegolius. Once they got out they were able to ride the winds and use their instincts, they only had a minor incident with landing.The tree they landed in belonged to an old Great Gray owl named Twilight, he was an orphan snatched as a owlet but he escaped before he was brought to St. Aggies. So he had to teach himself everything and growing up he traveled to every kingdom, he lived with many different types of owls and he has lots of knowledge and skills but no modesty.
They told Twilight their story and Twilight wants to go to the legendary tree, the Great Ga’Hoole Tree. The legends say that a group of brave, noble and powerful owls live there and go out and fight for the good of all the kingdoms. Twilight fully and confidently believes what most owls consider to be legends and is set on getting there, the owlets also want to go and warn them about St. Aegolius and all the bad things happening there. But they first want to look around and check their family’s nests to see if they can still find them.
Although it took them a bit of time, Soren and Gylfie learned to hunt and they checked the site of Soren’s family’s old nest before they had started heading towards the desert, where Gylfie is from. While there Soren decided to go hunting by himself for a quick snack and randomly ran into a familiar snake, Ms. P. Soren instists Ms. P joins them, she can fit and rest on Soren’s wings when he flies so she can come with them on their journey.
In the desert they’re looking for Gylfie’s old nest and hunting when they come across something rare, a Burrowing Owl. A type of owl that lives on the ground and actually prefers to run instead of fly. This owl’s name was Digger and he too had a terrible experience due to St. Aegolius. When his parents were out hunting the snatcher owls came and took one of his brothers and killed the other. Digger only escaped by running away but when he ran away he lost his borrow and was unable to find it again, since then he’s been looking for his parents but hasn’t been able to find them.
Despite Soren, Gylfie and Twilight trying to tell him spending all his time looking for his parents is useless he ran off to keep looking and they were just going to go their separate ways. But then four Higher Up owls from St. Aggies came flying through the desert, Soren could hear them talking and they were planning on eating Digger! They knew they had to do something and jumped into action even though it meant putting themselves at risk. It was a hard fight and Soren and his side were slightly outnumbered, for a second all seemed lost but then out of nowhere Hortense’s eagles appeared and helped them win the fight. The eagles are a pair of mates and very brave, named Streak and Zan and they stay and talk with the owls for a bit. They saw Digger’s parents get killed by the owls from St. Aggies and Soren, Gylfie and Twilight invite him to join them. Then a sort of connection forms between these four owls, they’re a team, a band and they will work together to get the Great Ga’Hoole Tree.
Overall I really liked this book, it was captivating and never boring. It has a lot of action and although it’s kind of fast paced and quick with it’s worldbuilding, explanations and set ups it’s very easily understandable and it still works well. That’s something I noticed especially that stood out compared to the other two series in this connected universe, the other first books spent lots of time worldbuilding and with filler where nothing important to the plot was happening. But in this one everything that happened seemed important and relevant to the story. I also really liked the plot and all the unique characters. I especially think this could be a good book for younger kids about ages seven-twelve or to help kids get into reading.