This was a series that caught my eye by virtue of the cover alone. I just love that griffin eye and the title font, not to mention the title itself. Overall a very striking package which led me to buy the book on impulse (yes, I am drawn to pretty things).
The Premise: This is the first book in the Griffin Mage trilogy and begins with a young girl named Kes watching the arrival of griffins to the land of Feierabiand. She’s drawn to them, but knows her sister wouldn’t approve of her dreaming and strangeness. In the meantime her town is in an uproar about the griffins, and want them out. Just as the consensus begins to be that the army must be called in, a mysterious stranger arrives and asks Kes to help heal his people. What Kes sees right away is that he is a griffin, and when he magically whisks her away, it’s apparent that he’s a mage too. The arrival of his people in Feierabiand marks the beginning of conflict in Feierabiand, as well as the beginning of Kes’s change into something else.
My Thoughts: The author does really well in describing the otherness of the griffin. Both in their thinking and in their physical presence which generates desert out of simple farmland. By merely being there the world is changed and there are plenty of passages in the book which illustrate a beautiful poetry in their affinity with fire and the desert: “He dreamed of rivers of burning liquid rock that ran across a jagged iron-dark land and cast droplets of fire into the air when it burst against stone. The air smelled like hot brass and burning stone.” Granted there was a repetitiveness in the descriptions, but I think it added to rather than took away from the inexorable power the desert had on those who didn’t belong there.
The author also gives the griffins their own language and their own culture. The names of each griffin is long (like Eskainiane Escaile Sehaikiu), which makes them harder for me to remember when I’m reading, but the author makes it easier by referring to their first names and their colors and ranks. Their relationships to each other are unique and not easily translated to the human equivalent, and they have different values and way of thinking than humans do. They have different ideas of honor.
Putting Kes, a shy 15 year old girl, in the midst of these creatures was fascinating. When the book begins, the story focuses on Kes, and I was hoping that she would be the primary protagonist. However the narrative shifts between what happens to Kes and to Bertaud, the king of Feierabiand’s right hand man. Bertaud is a a good guy, loyal to his king and does what he thinks is right at the time, despite what cost it may have to himself. At first I was disappointed that we were following someone other than Kes, but he grew on me. The story also widened it’s scope when Bertaud was introduced. Now we don’t only see Kes and the griffin’s world, we see the reactions of the countries affected by the migration of griffins – Feierabiand and Casmantium.
There are three closely neighboring countries involved in this tale – Feierabiand is where the book is set, but it is bookended on either side by Casmantium and Linularinum. The people of each country has certain affinities – Feierabiand for animals, Casmantium for making things, and Linularinum for words, but this is considered an everyday sort of magic – anyone can have an affinity. The rare magic is that of mages, and there are Earth mages, Cold mages (which are a variation of Earth mages), and Fire mages. Humans are creatures of Earth, and griffins are creatures of Fire. Because Kes has been exposed to Fire, she’s losing her connection to Earth. This is one of the many details that are part of a fascinating magic system in this book – the aversion that exists between those of Fire and those of Earth, and it’s something that affects the interaction between griffin and human.
Much of the book deals with Kes and Bertaud’s front row seat perspectives in dealing with the griffins in Feierabiand. Casmantium becomes involved and there is a lot of page space spent on determining the motives of others, and reacting to them in the hope that the best outcome will be reached. This means skirmishes and strategy, arguments and self-questioning. There’s definitely a larger scope to this story than the two people we follow, but it is not an epic story of battle either. I’m not sure how readers will take this. I personally like character driven stories so I wanted a smaller scope, but I think others may like a bigger one. For me, the strategizing and battles made the pace of the book feel slow because I wasn’t so interested in them, but I know this is a personal preference. I’ve been told that the second book (Land of the Burning Sands) will be in a different setting and with different characters (and that it’s better than the first), so I plan to read it soon.
Overall: I enjoyed the dreamy alieness of the griffins and the internal struggles of the individuals in this story, but the wider scope which involved military strategy and skirmishes, didn’t capture my attention as much. It’s a well-written and interesting world, but there were parts that were slow for me.
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The Book Smugglers – 7 (Very Good)
Fantasy Literature – “good solid fantasy”
Unbound – positive review (“a really refreshing, original book”)
Fantasy Book Critic – positive review (“Very impressed”, “After getting through the big portion of descriptions in the first half of the book, the novel seemed to fly right by“)
Persephone Reads – positive review (“is not fast paced; it is quiet at times”)
My world..in words and pages – positive review (“solid fantasy style read”)
Grasping for the Wind – “good but not great epic fantasy”