Hatched into the community of the barn owls, Soren is an endearingly excitable chick. His brother and nest-mate, Kludd, however is slightly less affable and pushes Soren from the nest whereupon he is captured by a rumoured group of kidnappers and is taken to an orphanage, St Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls.
St Aggie’s has all the feel – and indeed hardships – of a 19th-century workhouse and together with Gylfie whom Soren befriends, the two make plans to escape the institution. Whilst firmly imbued within the structure of the orphanage, Gylfie and Soren, evade the mind-controlling techniques of moon-blinking and thereby realise the extent of the regime and the threat it poses to the owl communities at large. An infiltrator, Hortense, helps make this clear to them.
A chilling quest against the oppressive staff at St Aggie’s and a bid for freedom is made in this first book of the ‘Guardians of Ga’Hoole’ series, that sees Hortense come to a perilous, though heroic end. Characters and themes are introduced and the extent of the threat against the owls is achieved effectively during episodes such as those in the hatchery which is impressive both in scale and scope; however, the lack of complete resolve towards the end of the novel makes for a read that is not entirely satisfying. Loose threads, although presumably playing a valuable role in future novels, have the unfortunate effect of leaving too little explained and too much open-ended.