Speaking of not launching into trilogies… This appears to be another trilogy that I was handed and intended to like without having read anything by the author before. Now, that being said: I have spent most of my life listening to the people around me tell me how wonderful Mercedes Lackey is. My best friend is a long time fan. My current housemate is a longtime fan. My partner is a long time fan. I am surrounded by people vouching for this author and her writing.
In addition to that, I was told that this book in particular was particularly important to Ross (aforementioned partner), and he was very eager to share it with me. So who am I to refuse?
Once again, I am absolutely blown away. Lackey has a lovely way with words, of making her stories very easy to understand without ever making the reader feel like she’s dumbed it down for us. In an author who seems primarily geared into the YA market, this is absolutely invaluable. Too many YA books feel like they’re a good story that got watered down for the audience. I had regular conversations with 10-12 year olds when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and never had to change my vocabulary a bit; the authors shouldn’t need to either.
Just in the beginning, one of the first times we truly see one of the main characters, it’s in the middle of a completely standard conversation about getting Skan, the gryphon of the title, dinner. A guest comes, Skan essentially says that the guest can come in but he doesn’t care who the hell it is because if it’s someone who can’t stand to watch a gryphon eat, they can come back later–and if it’s someone he doesn’t want to see, then they become dinner.
And this is the entrance:
“I should think I can bear to watch a gryphon eat,” said Urtho, the Mage of Silence.
As in…the creator of the gryphons.
The paragraph after that describes Urtho in stunning detail, without ever seeming over-effusive. It covers every inch of why you should be in awe of him, and goes not a moment further.
A page or two later, we have a single line of Skan’s to Urtho that still makes my heart warm. They are discussing the impending war, and Urtho’s desire that it either be done or have never begun. Skan’s response is short and eloquent. “Urtho. It is begun and continues. We fly these winds together. You did not cause the winds to become a storm.”
Not only is it condensed to pack a larger punch, but it also speaks brilliantly of the way a gryphon would think. I can’t quote every moment of that, but through Skan and the other gryphons we see, it is evident that they think as gryphons, not as humans–again, a welcome difference from some authors, where all races tend to sound like variants on human.
Lackey writes characters who you grow to hate, and has you entirely 180 on them before the end of the book. She can make a character make your heart feel as though it is being wrung within an inch of its life by the first page it’s mentioned on. She writes in twists you can’t see coming, and leaves you on the edge of your seat as tension rises. I was in tears for the last several pages of the book, and texted Ross in curse words for making me read it in the first place.
However, what I may like best came out in a question Ross asked me when I finished reading the book, and I was telling him my impressions. He asked, “Who is the protagonist of the book?” and I genuinely came up short. In theory, it should be Skan–as he is the Black Gryphon. But he’s not what I would call a proper protagonist for the book. He is integral to much of the plot, but I wouldn’t say he’s the most central character. That being said, neither is Urtho–though the world revolves entirely around him and his war–nor Drake, who is the center of most of the rest of the plot. They are all tied in together, inextricable from the rest. It is a perfect company book, a cast that holds the plot together. Again, very rare and difficult to do without having some portion of the plot or characters seem half-baked.
I have The White Gryphon sitting in my room, waiting for me to finish my book for school and return to it…and despite the tears at the end of this book, I cannot wait to return to Skan and his world.