Tag Archives: gryphons

By the Silver Wind (The Summer King Chronicles #4)

Title: By the Silver Wind

Author: Jess E. Owen

Series: The Summer King Chronicles #4

The pieces are in place: Kjorn and Shard are uniting the various races against the wyrms, renewing old ties and forging new alliances. But Shard is uneasy. He wants to settle things peaceably, and Kjorn is fired up for war. Even though he knows war may be the ultimate answer, Shard continues to try dreaming with Rhydda, the old female wyrm. Meanwhile, in the Silver Isles, Sverin’s reign of terror has come to an end. But the pride is beginning to fracture as it waits for the return of its king . . .

This was a little slower than the other three books, which wasn’t entirely a bad thing. It would’ve felt way too rushed to simply have the alliances, but the slow task of running to various groups and convincing them was less interesting to me than a more action-packed plot. Mbari is amazing, though. I like all the lions, who are both mystical and playful.

It was also very interesting to see Sverin interact with his pride from a position of weakness, not power. He’s the last character I would’ve expected to actually learn something from all he went through, but he does, and he changes (and there’s a hint of a thing going on that I really didn’t expect, but frustratingly Sverin’s decision cuts a lot of things short, and I wish he hadn’t done that).

I also like how so many things come full circle here. Kjorn and the Dawn Spire. Shard and the Silver Isles. The missing piece of the puzzle that finally explains the presence of the wyrms, and why they hunt gryfons above all else.

Although I didn’t have quite as much fun with this as I did the earlier books, it’s still a good ending. This book finishes off the series very well, and although there’s a lot of room for more books in this world, the particular tale that started in Song of the Summer King does close here. I rate this book Recommended.

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A Shard of Sun (The Summer King Chronicles #3)

Title: A Shard of Sun

Author: Jess E. Owen

Series: The Summer King Chronicles #3

With a newly-hatched dragon, Hikaru, under his protection, Shard must find a way not only to escape the wyrms but honor the promise he made to Hikaru’s mother. Meanwhile, Kjorn has flown all the way from the Silver Isles in search of Shard, but even though he finds traces of Shard everywhere, he can’t seem to locate the gryfon himself. And Kjorn, son of Sverin, son of Per, has the infamy of Per dogging him. Will Shard succeed in his quest to understand the history behind Per, the dragons, and the wyrms, and ultimately secure peace or victory? And what changes will Kjorn inadvertently bring to this new land?

First: Hikaru is absolutely adorable. He’s such a happy dragon, but Shard can’t help remembering that Hikaru’s lifespan will only be a single year. It’s a fascinating contrast. The dragons have a rich culture, but their short lives means the generations turn over incredibly fast, and Shard’s best sources of history are stories passed down a hundred generations, with all the complications that ensue from that much secondhand information. I also like the inversion of dragons as incredibly long-lived (well, the wyrms are, but these are dragons too). And Shard playing father is also very cute, as he tries desperately to be a good role model for Hikaru, who constantly surprises him.

I liked seeing Kjorn maturing too. He’s come a long way from the arrogant son who thoughtlessly took on many of his father’s more destructive beliefs and shipwrecked his friendship with Shard because of it. And he’s challenged in ways his size and strength can’t fix—winning trust, building alliances.

I also appreciate how even the most minor characters have their own lives, their own stories, and often, their own character arcs. The wolf that Shard saved from gryfons has grown up—and is struggling to be the kind of wolf that can win Catori’s heart. Or take Caj, who is torn between his wingbrother oath to Sverin and his love for his Vanir mate, and does everything he can to be honorable and faithful to both when they are completely at odds with each other.

All in all these continue to impress. The world has so much depth and detail, and I love the thread of redemption that breaks through evil. Because the ultimate goal is so much more complicated than simply killing a tyrant, of whatever kind. Real, true peace must break the cycle of violence—not ignoring the wrongs perpetrated but rising above them. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Skyfire (The Summer King Chronicles #2)

Title: Skyfire

Author: Jess E. Owen

Series: The Summer King Chronicles #2

Shard can’t afford to linger on the islands he’s known all his life. The Aesir came from over the sea, and knowing the reason for that long quest might provide the way for him to break through Sverin’s ever more despotic rule. But he also has the destiny of the Summer King to wrestle with. No one can tell him any more than the old song, a song known by many different species. If Shard is to be a king, how? If he is destined to unite the pride, how can he do it without perpetuating the cycle of war?

It’s a rare series whose second book is better than the first, but this is one of them. Shard’s tale interweaves with the story of those he left behind, and, surprisingly, neither one drags. Shard’s growing happiness contrasts against the growing misery of the rest, but both of them have incredible challenges that seem insurmountable.

I liked getting to know a new set of gryfons. Shard has a chance to see how a pride might look when it isn’t isolated and pushing hard for its own survival. There’s still dysfunction, but overall it’s a much healthier place. I particularly liked Asvander. He’s a little more than he appears, but it’s also true Shard’s own emotions cause him to misjudge him.

Also fun was seeing Shard interact with both eagles and lions. The various races all have their own flavor of legend, and although they seem to have an almost universal dislike of gryfons, there’s a lot of commonalities too.

Overall this continues to be an engaging fantasy with strong characters, hard choices, and plenty of surprises. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Song of the Summer King (The Summer King Chronicles #1)

Title: Song of the Summer King

Author: Jess E. Owen

Series: The Summer King Chronicles #1

Shard is a young gryfon eager to prove himself—for as one of the conquered Vanir, he has extra reasons to be cautious of his Aesir king, who hates the Vanir. Not that Shard remembers the Conquering, which happened when he was a kit. But Shard is soon drawn into a web of conflicting loyalties, and he will have to decide where his heart truly lies. . .

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, and finally got around to it since the first book showed up free. I never did get over my dislike of how gryfon is spelled (despite this being one word that has about a dozen legitimate spellings), but the story was very good.

There aren’t any humans or human variants here. Shard is a gryfon, and the various other races he meets includes wolves, ravens, and so on. I liked that a lot, since it meant the story could focus on characters with wings and claws and fur and feather. It doesn’t overdescribe the gryfons or their way of life, but the details are plentiful and immersive.

I liked Caj, and how he wasn’t at all who I expected (or who Shard expected, come to that). I liked the different tribes of Vanir and Aesir, and how they value different approaches to life, and how Shard seems to be the only one able to see good in both sides, which makes him feel caught between choosing one path or the other. The Aesir did horrible things to the Vanir, true enough, but for all that Shard recognizes they aren’t necessarily evil. I liked that the tribes are also physically different, which leads to some interesting contrasts between Shard and his wingbrother.

And then the end had to go and tangle everything up. Not that it was a bad ending—but it changes everything for Shard, and who he thinks he is, and who he chooses to become. He’s just not there yet. The next books should be interesting indeed. I rate this book Recommended.

Year of the Griffin (Derkholm #2)

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.

Dark Lord of Derkholm (Derkholm #1)

Title: Dark Lord of Derkholm

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Series: Derkholm #1

If it weren’t for Mr. Chesney, people would be much happier. He’s an offworld businessman who’s turned Derk’s world into a fantasy theme park for tourists—and the powerful demon backing him up means the world has little choice but to go along with it. Derk himself is an ordinary man, who prefers to spend his wizardry on creating fantastic animals and plants, but when he’s assigned the post of this year’s Dark Lord, he has to upend his life to do everything by Mr. Chesney’s book. Only Derk never was much good at being conventional. And this year’s Pilgrim Parties have no idea what they’re in for.

I remember the first time I read this, when a friend of mine brought over her library book and I, upon seeing the gryphon on the cover, promptly read half of it before she had to go home, then went to the library to get myself a copy to finish it. My feelings about this book haven’t changed a bit. It’s still utterly brilliant.

On the one hand, you have a satire of badly-written fantasy books. Mr. Chesney has very particular ideas, like how all wizards have beards, Pilgrims are kidnapped by pirates or slavers, have a Coliseum adventure, experience battles, are seduced by an Enchantress, and go home after slaying the Dark Lord. And we get a behind-the-scenes view on how this year’s Dark Lord is conducting a very elaborate play with everyone else in the world to make sure this is what they do indeed experience. On the other hand, she remarkably also plays it straight—Mr. Chesney is subtly called out to be the true Dark Lord, whose weakness is the fact that all his power resides in the demon and not himself, and so on (to say too much would spoil some of the excellent twists).

Then you have Derk. He is, on first glance, exactly the sort of wizard who would seem perfect for a Dark Lord. He uses magic to make gryphons, flying horses, flying pigs, intelligent geese, invisible cats, carnivorous sheep, already-roasted-coffee plants, nylon, carnivorous plants, and more. But he’s a farmer/inventor at heart. He truly loves his creations—the gryphons are as much his children as his human children. They have a big, wacky family, but it is a family. And when the tours put a strain on his marriage and his familial bonds, Derk reacts very badly. Because what’s most important to him is not pleasing Mr. Chesney, or even not dying at the hands of Mr. Chesney’s demon. And it’s his love for his family, more than any great acts of wizardry or the united efforts of the rest of the world, that put an end to the tours for good.

In addition to Derk, much of the plot follows Blade, Derk’s son and a middle child. Each of the kids is so different, human and gryphon. Shona is the eldest, and setting herself up to be a bard, and has buckets of musical talent in addition to a propensity to take charge and order people around. Lydda is the only gryphon who not only likes human cooking but adores it, and as a consequence tends to overeat. Callette is the intellectual gryphon who discovers calculators when Mr. Chesney has a meeting at Derk’s house, and goes quite mad for electronics (she has, clearly, inherited Derk’s inventor side). Kit is the oldest gryphon, Derk’s first success, and just hitting that awkward stage where he’s nearly an adult but not quite, and bounces from overbearing to insecure. Don is quiet and competent. Elda is the youngest, the baby of the family. And Blade, the second human son and practically twin to Callette, is a fledgling wizard who can’t convince his father to allow him to go to university to study magic. Somehow everyone pulls together to support Derk in their own ways.

In addition, although the story mostly keeps its tight focus on the family, we have Querida, the High Chancellor Wizards’ University, providing more of a birds-eye view of the overall drama, the hidden war between the world and Mr. Chesney, which Derk, despite being a rather central figure in their plot, has not been told about.

And then there are dragons, dwarves, wizards, elves, and various kinds of people who have got themselves involved.

There are some dark moments, especially with Shona, that even though the plot doesn’t spend a lot of time on what actually happens, may make this unsuitable for young children (though, given the lack of detail, it’s also very possible they’ll miss the deeper implications of what probably happened). But I am grateful for the way the prose doesn’t fixate on the bad things, and offers Shona a very quick restitution.

Overall, though, this remains tied with Archer’s Goon for my favorite Diana Wynne Jones book. I love the gryphons to pieces, the plot is amazing, and the characters come so much alive. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Pinhoe Egg (Chrestomanci)

Title: The Pinhoe Egg

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Series: Chrestomanci

Marianne Pinhoe was looking forward to summer vacation, but everything is upended when Gammer Pinhoe breaks down. The entire extended Pinhoe family rallies to take care of her, but Gammer is stubborn, angry, and crafty. Only Marianne seems to see the trouble she’s causing, but no one will listen to her . . .

Cat Chant is in training to be an enchanter up at Chrestomanci Castle. He’s somehow accumulating creatures—a horse, a cat, and the mysterious egg he discovers with Marianne Pinhoe in a dusty attic. But he never expected to stumble across mysteries just outside the castle doors. Mysteries that could be more dangerous than he ever anticipated . . .

Has it really been ten years since I first read this? It certainly doesn’t feel that long. This story is a loose followup to Charmed Life (at least, in the sense that Cat is a main character again), but it can be read alone.

I like Cat’s side of the story better, mostly because Marianne’s is darker and more frustrating for her. Cat balances her out with more lighthearted moments, like the horse Julia and Janet want so badly that somehow Cat, the sole child who wants neither horse nor bicycle, ends up with. And, of course, the egg and what comes out of it. And Roger and Joe’s sudden obsession and what comes out of it.

I liked, too, how despite some very drastic differences between them, both Marianne and Cat are struggling to be taken seriously. Cat is bad at putting things into words anyway, and Marianne is arguing against people who habitually write her off. I liked that Marianne chooses to be brave, even though it makes things harder short-term. She displays really practical heroism—continuing to do what’s right even though she gets a lot of abuse for it.

And this wouldn’t be a Jones novel without some terribly dysfunctional family relationships. It strikes me that the main evil in her villains is how incredibly selfish they are. Gammer is concerned only about Gammer—her pride, especially. She has no qualms about getting her extended family hurt as long as she gets what she wants. She’s highlighted against Gaffer Farleigh, who has simply made up his mind and refuses to listen to anything that contradicts him (which is in its own way selfish—the attitude that says I refuse to consider I may not be absolutely correct).

The big fracas at the end does wrap up with a bit of an info dump, although I am still happy to see most people getting what they deserve. Especially Gammer. The multitude of secondary characters can be a bit hard to keep track of, mostly on the Pinhoe side, but the important ones do stand out.

Overall this is a great book. I rate this Highly Recommended.