Author: Rachel Neumeier
Publication Date: May 2010
Paperback: 400 pages
Griffins lounged all around them, inscrutable as cats, brazen as summer. They turned their heads to look at Kes out of fierce, inhuman eyes. Their feathers, ruffled by the wind that came down the mountain, looked like they had been poured out of light; their lion haunches like they had been fashioned out of gold. A white griffin, close at hand, looked like it had been made of alabaster and white marble and then lit from within by white fire. Its eyes were the pitiless blue-white of the desert sky.
Little ever happens in the quiet villages of peaceful Feierabiand. The course of Kes’ life seems set: she’ll grow up to be an herb-woman and healer for the village of Minas Ford, never quite fitting in but always more or less accepted. And she’s content with that path — or she thinks she is. Until the day the griffins come down from the mountains, bringing with them the fiery wind of their desert and a desperate need for a healer. But what the griffins need is a healer who is not quite human . . . or a healer who can be made into something not quite human.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Griffin Mage Trilogy
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: The synopsis sounded pretty interesting, and I was in the mood for a more traditional style fantasy read. PLUS, it never hurts knowing that the second book is already written and soon to be published. And also, I like the cover. Pretty. /superficial
For all fifteen years of her young life, Kes has always felt different than everyone else. Her older sister and guardian Tesme tries to encourage Kes to interact more with other people, to hold conversations, to form friendships, talk to boys, and be normal. But Kes has always felt a separation from others – a shyness and awkwardness when it comes to talking to anyone. One day while out gathering herbs, Kes sees something that will change her life forever: griffins. Majestic, fiercely beautiful and utterly inhuman, Kes marvels at the sudden appearance of griffins in the small, southern town of Minas Ford…but no one else feels nearly as awed. The townspeople are terrified of what these creatures’ appearance so far south of their home desert means for their crops and cattle, and tensions only mount higher when a strange fiery mage appears at the local inn looking for a healer. When Kairaithin, the titled Lord of the Changing Winds, sights Kes, he instantly knows that she is a latent mage, her not-yet-awakened Earth powers stirring just beneath the surface. Instead of allowing her abilities to awaken naturally, the desperate Kairaithin whisks Kes away and awakens her powers to Fire – for the already scarce race of griffins are in dire need of help, lying mortally injured by cold mages from the northern kingdom of Casmantian.
Driven out of their native desert and into the southern lands of Feierabriand, the griffins cause problems for more than just the people of Minas Ford – their very presence is perceived of as a threat by King Iaor, and to investigate the matter, he sends a hundred of his best soldiers with his most trusted advisor and old friend, Bertaud. As Bertaud’s path crosses with Kairaithin and the strange girl Kes, the fate of a kingdom hangs in the balance.
This first Griffin Mage novel from Rachel Neumeier was exactly what I was in the mood for – a fairly straightforward, well-paced and well-written creature fantasy. Lord of the Changing Winds is basically a dragon book, with griffins. I mean this in the best way – I love dragon books, and Ms. Neumeier’s take on fantastical creatures (especially the winged, fire-driven variety) is a memorable one. The lore of the griffins, their magical abilities, and their limitations as creatures of fire and the desert are impeccably detailed in this book – but most impressive to me was how Ms. Neumeier does not fall into the trap of humanizing inherently inhuman characters. The griffins of Lord of the Changing Winds, from Anasakuse Sipiike Kairaithin to the king Eskainiane Escaile Sehaikiu, are fierce creatures, separate from human emotions and interpretations – and that’s an impressive thing. You also may notice that their names are quite the handful, but also exceedingly well-thought out and written, yet another impressive feat. It’s clear that Ms. Neumeier has an eye for nomenclature and detail.
Case in point: beyond the griffins themselves, the world and magical system in Lord of the Changing Winds is also impressively detailed. From a worldbuilding and political intrigue standpoint, the novel depicts a believable, tenuous relationship between three rival kingdoms. Though these entanglements and the ultimate cause of the novel’s central political conflict are solid and eminently believable, my only criticism is that the intrigue aspect and military aspect are a bit on the micro scale. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – simply simplistic (but hey, sometimes you want A Game of Thrones, and sometimes you want well-written political entanglements on a less complicated scale). On the magical end of the spectrum, the concept of mages is nothing exactly groundbreaking, but also with its own unique quirks. I loved the idea of mages being antipathic towards each other – the conflicts between the Earth mages of Feierabriand and Kairaithin (a creature of fire) are infuriating, but intriguing.
From a character perspective, the griffin fire mage Kairaithin is the clear standout – but the human characters also are wonderfully layered and memorable. I loved how UN-sympathetic Kes is as a “heroine” – rather than go down the same rehashed pretty-girl-everyone-loves-but-still-feels-different tune, Kes is decidedly disconnected from those around her – including readers. There’s a particular scene at the end of the book when Kes’ magical awakening has been completed that reveals just how different – rather, indifferent – a character she has become. It’s a ballsy gamble on the part of Ms. Neumeier’s and certain to turn off some readers, but I, for one, respected it. That’s not to say there is a lack of human connection in the book – in contrast to Kes’ remoteness, the very emotional, sympathetic character of Bertaud provides a valuable counterpoint. And, well, there’s also one other character with a romantic subplot here that is worth waiting for (and discovering for yourself). (Rest assured it isn’t an idiotic, implausible relationship between Kes and a superhawt griffin mage – if that were the case, this book probably would have ended up hurled against the wall.)
Yes, Lord of the Changing Winds isn’t the most complex or deepest novel thematically, and there’s a plot development that isn’t quite original (reminiscent of a certain revelation with the kandra in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series). But despite these minor quibbles, Rachel Neumeier’s debut adult novel is certainly a solid one, and well worth reading. There’s room for improvement, but I have every belief that the next book will be even better.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
The griffins came to Feierabiand with the early summer warmth, riding the wind out of the heights down to the tender green pastures of the foothills. The wind they brought with them was a hard, hot wind, with nothing of the gentle Feierabiand summer about it. It tasted of red dust and hot brass.
Kes, gathering herbs in the high pastures above the village of Minas Ford, saw them come: great bronze wings shining in the sun, tawny pelts like molten gold, sunlight striking harshly off beaks and talons. One was a hard shining white, one red as the coals at the heart of a fire. The griffins rode their wind like soaring eagles, wings outstretched and still. The sky took on a fierce metallic tone as they passed. They turned around the shoulder of the mountain and disappeared, one and then another and another, until they had all passed out of sight. Behind them, the sky softened slowly to its accustomed gentle blue.
Kes stood in hills above the high pastures, barefoot, her hair tangled, her hands full of fresh-picked angelica, and watched until the last of the griffins slid out of view. They were the most beautiful creatures she had ever seen. She almost followed them, running around the curve of the mountain’s shoulder, leaving her angelica and elecampane and goldenseal to wilt in the sun; she even took a step after them before she thought better of the idea. But Tesme hated it when Kes did not come home by dusk; she hated it worse when her sister did not come home before dawn. So Kes hesitated one moment and then another, knowing that if she followed the griffins she would orget time and her sister’s expectations. There would be noise and fuss, and then it would be days before Tesme nce again gave reluctant leave for Kes to go up into the hills. So she stayed where she was on the mountainside, only shading her eyes with her hand as she tried to follow the griffins with her eyes and imagination around the curve of the mountain.
Griffins, she thought. Griffins …
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Book 2, titled Land of the Burning Sands is already in stores. Here’s the synopsis:
‘They flung ice and earth against us. We will return wind and fire …’
In the aftermath of a brutal war, Gereint of Casmantium watches his city crumble. He knows little of how his king sought, unwisely, to use griffins as pawns in a human conflict. Yet Gereint does know that his kingdom’s defeat offers him a chance to escape from servitude.
But now that the griffins find themselves in a position of strength, they are not inclined to forgive, and the entire kingdom finds itself in deadly peril. Willing or not, Gereint will find himself caught up in a desperate struggle between the griffins and the last remaining Casmantian mage.
Time is short, for the fiery wind of the griffins is already burying Casmantium beneath burning sands …
Verdict: Enjoyable and a quick read, Lord of the Changing Winds is perfect beach-style traditional fantasy. Yes, it might lack thematic depth, but it’s well written, entertaining, and good fun. I’ll be around for book 2, Land of the Burning Sands most definitely.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
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