To date, Ana and I have done a few of these “I Love This Series” posts – and I am happy to add another series to the lineup, with Rachel Neumeier’s Griffin Mage Trilogy: Lord of the Changing Winds, Land of the Burning Sands, and Law of the Broken Earth. The trilogy has recently been collected in a single omnibus titled, aptly, The Griffin Mage Trilogy. (And on another note, as is tradition with these series reviews, this piece will be spoiler free!)
The Griffin Mage trilogy, now complete in one volume, tells the story of the war between men and griffins — and the young girl, torn between two worlds, who will decide the fate of all.
Little ever happens in the quite villages of peaceful Feierabiand. The course of Kes’ life sees 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.
This omnibus edition contains the complete Griffin Mage trilogy: Lord of the Changing Wind, Land of the Burning Sands and Law of the Broken Earth.
Comprising three books, this series tells the story of three different kingdoms in the country of man – Feierabiand, Casmantium, and Linularium – and the struggle that unfolds when the careful balance between man and Wild Magic is broken. In Lord of the Changing Winds, Griffins, magic creatures of sand and fire, appear in the sleepy Feierabiand town of Minas Ford, seeking a gifted healer. Kes, a fifteen year old girl who believed her life would follow the same pattern as every other girl of Minas Ford before her, discovers her own latent powers and becomes a mage of fire. The act of the Griffins leaving their desert to the north and crossing into the country of man, however, terrifies and threatens the King of Feierabiand, who sends his troops and trusted friend and advisor Bertaud to investigate.
When the Arobern, King Brechen of the neighboring country of Casmantium, attempts to use the Griffins as an opportunity to take land from Feierabiand, his plan crumbles and the war is lost. The Griffins call up their burning wind and scorch the land, extending their impossible desert and laying waste to any other life in their path. In Land of the Burning Sands, Casmantian slave Gereint Enseichen uses the devastation as a chance to escape from the geas – the magical bond of servitude to his master that forces him to physically do everything as he is ordered. Gereint barely survives the desert, thanks to a chance encounter with Amnachudran, a theoretical healer magician. After earning each others’ trust, Amnachudran finds a way to remove the brand that marks Gereint’s face (identifying him as a geas bound slave to all that would claim him and use the magical bond for their own), and sends Gereint – a type of mage known as a “maker” – to aid his daughter, Tehre, in her applications of magic. Things become complicated when Gereint finds himself in the service of the Arobern’s last Cold Mage, Beguchren Teshrichten, and Tehre takes her particular skill of making (and understanding of unmaking) to the north, following Bertraud of Feierabiand to help with the creation of a formidable wall…
In Law of the Broken Earth, we meet Mienthe, a young girl that has just inherited a great deal of land and power with the death of her father and the absence of any other heirs. Sent to live with her conniving Uncle, Mienthe’s future looks bleak until her long lost cousin Bertraud returns and assumes his role as Lord of the Delta – and takes Mienthe as his ward. As the years pass and Mienthe grows into a young woman, Bertraud’s old friend, the griffin mage Kairaithin sweeps back into his life bringing ill tidings; Tehre’s wall is breaking, and the griffins will call up the winds to bury all the countries of man under the burning sands. The task of righting the balance between Wild Magic, between man and griffin, now falls into the hands of Mienthe – who must discover her own latent powers – and the unlikely spymaster Tan, who has discovered grave information from Linularium.
This trilogy is unexpected, to say the least. While there is an overarching story – that of the griffins and different kingdoms, struggling to find balance and avoid annihilation – each of the books in the trilogy follows different characters and could, conceivably, be read alone. The first entry, Lord of the Changing Winds is surprisingly the most griffin-centric novel in the series – it is in this book that we learn about these dangerous, powerful creatures and understand how different they are from the humans to the south. In contrast, the second and third books are more focused on politics and human characters, some more memorable than others. I absolutely loved the main characters in all three books, from the shockingly unsympathetic Kes in the first novel, to the moving stories of Gereint and Tehre, and finally Mienthe (oh how I LOVED Mienthe!) in the second and third books. Each novel does have the shared greater conflict of impending war, the loss of balance, and magic, and each book does push that overarching theme towards a resolution – and I truly loved the way things played out by the conclusion of the last book.
Beyond the characters, the most impressive thing about this series is the magical and political balance that Ms. Neumeier has created. I loved the balance of different mages, which include not only the power of fire and ice, but also earth, healing, making and unmaking, speech with animals, amongst other abilities. The balance of the different kingdoms and their opportunistic tendencies also plays out strongly in the series, and I love that we do get to see each different country from varied perspectives.
The only criticisms I have for the trilogy are twofold – first, if you don’t know that the books are only loosely related and expect a more linear, straightforward trilogy that follows a core group of familiar characters, you’ll probably be confused by the second and third novels (I know I was). To be fair, that’s not so much a criticism as it is an unsolicited expectation – and when I did adjust to the different characters and focus, I found myself easily immersed in each separate book. The other actual criticism is to do with pacing – while the first book is evenly paced and moves along smoothly, the second and third books start strong but tend towards some protractedness by mid-novel. There’s some mundane detail, a few ineffectual detours and interactions, but this is a minor nitpick in what is otherwise a fantastic trilogy.
Absolutely recommended, especially for those fans looking for a traditional style fantasy trilogy in which to immerse themselves (without the torture of waiting indeterminable lengths between books).
Overall Series Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver
Thanks to the generous Rachel Neumeier, we have a copy of Land of the Burning Sands, Law of the Broken Earth AND a complete omnibus for giveaway to three lucky winners! In order to enter, simply leave a comment here letting us know what your favorite magical creature – griffin, dragon, unicorn, or otherwise! – is. The contest is open to residents of the US and Canada, and will run until Saturday, November 19 at 11:59PM (PST). Good luck!