Title: Year of the Griffin
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Series: Derkholm #2
Eight years after Mr. Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties were shut down, the world is still in recovery. Forty years of devastation won’t change quickly. Derk’s family has changed some, too. Shona is married with children, the older gryphons have all gone across the sea with Derk to meet more of their own kind, and Elda, the former baby (gryphon) of the family, is all set to go to the Wizard’s University, despite Derk’s abiding hatred of the place. Life at university is a chance to learn, to meet new friends, and to stumble into some terrifying escapades. With assassins and invading armies, will she and her friends make it to graduation?
I think one of the reasons this story fails to grab me in any meaningful way is the lack of a driving plot. I mean, in on sense it’s there almost from the beginning: the university sends out letters begging for donations to people who either didn’t know where their now-student ran off to or who have some kind of grudge against the university, thus triggering a flood of retribution. And that’s okay. It works. But it feels like the more interesting things are the ones that happen around the edges and never really get a story. I would’ve loved to see Derk and most of his family go overseas to meet the gryphons—they apparently stumbled into a war-in-progress, and a few of the gryphons ended up finding significant others.
The other thing that drags the story down is the sheer number of instant-love relationships. The gryphons are almost forgivable, as it was never clear if they ought to have some elaborate courtship rituals or pick a mate some other way. But Lukin is the only one who gradually builds up to “it’s a relationship”; at least three other couples are love-at-first-sight and two of them decide to get married immediately (as in, that same day they first met).
But for everything I have against it, there’s still a lot of charm. Elda is amusing as the only gryphon in a human college, though she tries hard to fit in (and because her father is Derk, who saved the world and has the approval of the gods, no one dares to cross her). It’s even better when Kit and other gryphons pop in. And I do like Flury a lot. His humble, self-effacing manner drives Elda crazy, but he sometimes forgets himself and lets his true power show through.
The adventures range from somewhat normal (trying to make the cafeteria serve something edible) to completely wacky (fending off assassins with…. a pit full of orange juice?). It’s never quite clear what’s coming next.
Overall, as a standalone book, this isn’t bad. It’s a light, fun story about a young gryphon’s first year at college. As a sequel, it’s much less than its predecessor was. It’s still worth a read, but don’t go in expecting the genre-defying epic that was Dark Lord of Derkholm. I rate this book Recommended.