Ever notice how the second parts of trilogies are often the weakest? This is not always the case, but it often happens in both books and movies, and it definitely occurs here. "Dark Moon" is the second part of "The Firebringer" trilogy, which began with the fascinating "Birth of the Firebringer" and ending with the explosive "Son of Summer Stars". But smack dab in the middle is "Dark Moon", and though it is far from being a bad book, it is unfavourably compared to the volumes either side of it.
In the preceding novel we are introduced to the young Prince Alijan, whose name means `dark moon', and who is the subject of a prophecy that describes the one who will eventually win back the Hallow Hills for the unicorns. Taken over by the poisonous wyverns, the unicorns were driven into exile and long to return to their ancestral home - especially since they now contend with gryphons, pans and renegade unicorns. Identified as the prophesied `Firebringer', the chosen one of the goddess Alma, Alijan is slowly making changes within his herd - introducing them to new customs and cultures, creating peace between enemies and laying to rest some of the snobbery and superstition that plagues his people (much to the disgust of his conservative father Korr).
But all that is put on hold when Jan and the rest of the youths in the tribe travel to the shore to engage in mating rituals. It is there he is finally united with his beloved Tek, though it is for only a short while. A vicious gryphon attack cuts him off from the rest of his fellows, and he is swept off to sea. Presumed dead by his grieving friends, the unicorns travel home where Tek's union with Jan is met only with disgust by Korr. Considering them judged by Alma, Korr instigates a new regime for the coming winter that endangers the life of the entire tribe. Finding herself in foal, Tek escapes to her mother, the mystic Jah-Lila who lives as a renegade upon the plain.
Meanwhile, Jan finds himself washed up on a foreign shore with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Falling in with "two-leggers", Jan is conveyed to their great city where he is enraptured by their mastery of fire. Yet there are sinister goings-on within the city, which Jan becomes aware of when he is introduced to the hornless horses of the "two-leggers", who exist completely under human rule. Escape is necessary, which also holds the hope of regaining his lost memories...
The problem with "Dark Moon" is that it relies a bit too much on clichéd fantasy techniques: a mad king, a prodigal son, an amnesia plot device, and a corrupt human society - we've seen all this before. Pierce is on surer (and more interesting) ground when she deals with Tek's relationship with her mother, the mysterious backstory to Korr's past, and the different definition she makes of `hero' in relation to Jan, who is more an information-gatherer and society-changer than a warrior or war-hero. This is captured perfectly in the final chapters of the novel, when Jan is faced with the gryphon responsible for his separation from the herd and faces a crucial choice of life or death.
As usual Jah-Lila makes an intoxicating narrator, and despite its discrepancies "Dark Moon" is an essential part of the trilogy. Perhaps I've been too hard on it (as the editorial reviews certainly are), as it is an intriguing and well-written book on its own terms...but you have much more to look forward to in "Son of Summer Stars".