Book 2 of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, The Journey continues the story of Soren and the gang, straight out of St. Aggie’s towards their journey to the great Ga’Hoole tree.
The Band, i.e., Soren (Barn owl), Gylfie (Elf owl), Digger (Burrowing owl) and Twilight (Great Grey owl) and Mrs. Plithiver (Soren’s nest-maid snake, with whom he reunited with in the last book) at the end of the previous book had embarked on a journey to the great Ga’Hoole tree that grows on an island in the middle of the Sea of Hoolemere, where knightly owls live and rise in the darkness to perform noble deeds.
This book introduces us to a variety of other birds, and a lot of scenery and oddly enough no trace of humans at all. Humans here are vaguely termed as The others. There are traces of human civilization in the forms of ruins of churches, castle, chapels and many stone gardens leading the readers to believe that the humans have either left the Earth or are extinct.
The group has to go through a lot of hardships on this journey. They get mobbed by crows, get hypnotized by the clear rivers and lakes at the Beaks. These hardships prove to be the test of time for this group and they emerge as not just a band but a family. From the Narrow Lakes to the Ice Narrows. The warning of the “you only wish” by the dying Barred Owl, springs upon us the first trace of an impending doom upon the animal kingdom. For these “Pure Ones” to whom we are introduced in the next book are group of barn owls much like Soren, who believe that it is the barn owls who are the “purest” owl species on Earth.
When they finally arrive at the tree, they find themselves in a Hogwarts-like school where owls are divided into “chaws,” or small teams, that focus on particular skills such as navigation or search and rescue. By the end of the book, Soren has learned the fate of his lost sister, discovered that he has some unique powers, and has lost his new mentor, leaving things wide open for the next installment. Therefore, the many unresolved mysteries are put on the back burner for a while, as the book describes the owls’ experiences in their varioius chaws. Rather than being an annoyance, though, this brief change in tone serves as a welcome break, and it also introduces us to plenty of new characters. These newly-introduced owls have well-drawn and funny personalities, and many of them play important roles in the later books.
The story flows nicely and has a certain appeal that carries readers along, despite the sometimes-jarring addition of unnecessary owl poetry. Lasky’s fully realized world is full of traditions based on the actual habits of owls, but this is still a world in which owls can read and write.
In this beautifully and sensitively written book, Kathryn Lasky has continued to build on the world she created in Book One, where owls are a very elite group of birds, proud and separate from the other animals. In no time, the reader is caught up in a story where both dreadful and wonderful things happen. As Soren struggles to understand his new environment, he slowly begins to learn that there is more to life than just what he sees, hears and touches. Soren’s realization about his own abilities is an exceptionally strong and powerful element in THE JOURNEY. There is also the discovery by the owls that live in the Great Ga’Hoole Tree that something truly dreadful is happening to the baby owls in the Southern Kingdoms. We are left hanging, wanting to know what this evil is, and at the same time fearing for the welfare of these owls.
The world building is excellent, with a few intriguing hints that it might take place on a post-Holocaust Earth, and the characterization is solid. The owls are unique and complex, with conflicting feelings and just the right mix of seriousness and fun. This book was as good as the first, a treat for children and adults with great descriptions of owl and nest-maid snake daily life, and the action packed search and rescue mission to return the owlets to the tree. Fantasy readers will enjoy the adventure, but the book will appeal mainly to fans of the first volume in the series.