Review by Roz Gibson
The land of Heraldale is a place of mythical creatures: unicorns, dragons, gryphons, sphinxes, werewolves and minotaurs. For years Heraldale has been gripped by a long-running war between the unicorn empire and the gryphons, which the unicorns are winning due to superior technology and magical ability. When one of the last gryphon holdouts is overrun, Queen Grimhilt, a cardinal-gryphon, leaves her infant, Princess Galaxy, in the care of Ida, a trusted officer. Princess Galaxy is one of the rarest creatures of all: a hippogryph, a cross between a gryphon and a unicorn, possessing magical powers above and beyond what normal unicorns and gryphons have.
This trilogy definitely qualifies as ‘epic fantasy,’ with enough characters, battles, betrayals and loyal companions to satisfy fans of the genre. It’s hard to review an entire trilogy without giving away spoilers, but I’ll do my best. Ida, who is a golden eagle gryphon, raised Galaxy in quiet anonymity, with her adoptive siblings, Brynjar (another golden eagle gryphon) and two swan-gryphons. Evidently, cross-gryphon pairing produce children like one or the other parent, rather than a mix. When Galaxy impulsively rescues a unicorn from pursuing cockatrices, she sets into motion a series of events that lead to her home in Featheren Valley being destroyed by the Unicorn Empire, making refugees of her and her family.
Joined by Owain, the unicorn she rescued from the cockatrices, Galaxy tries to find her adoptive mother, going from one confrontation to another with the series’s bad guys—evil unicorn Mordred and his lieutenant Bevin. Over the course of the three books Galaxy learns how to use and control her powers, and gets beaten up more times than I can count. All the characters in this get, by turns, beaten up, thrown in chains, locked up, mocked, tortured, maimed. So nobody can say the cast of Heraldale didn’t suffer for their beliefs. After all the trauma she endures, Galaxy ends up with ‘terror sickness’ (what we would call PTSD), which causes nightmares and flashbacks.
There’s a lot of backstory that is touched on, which will apparently be the subject of forthcoming books. In addition to Mordred, other Arthurian names show up, including Lancelot and LeFay. Humans are mentioned, as is God himself, although I don’t know if either will be explored later. The overall plot of the series is Galaxy trying to end the war between gryphons and unicorns, and prevent the evil unicorn empress from deploying her ultimate weapon.
Now I do have a sneaky feeling the origin of this series may have been in My Little Pony fanfiction, especially since the unicorns can use their horns to magically move objects, so take that as you will. In addition to all the action and exotic creatures, the character development is excellent, particularly in Bevin, Owain and Brynjar. Of all the major characters, Galaxy seemed to grow the least, at least in personality. Instead of becoming a great leader, she seems to wallow in self-pity and angst, particularly in the third book. And while one major plot line comes to a conclusion, other problems remain for future volumes.
The main issue I had with the series was technical. A transgender character is introduced in volume #2, but the fact she’s trans isn’t fully revealed until much later, so when the character is referred to as ‘she’ part of the time, and ‘he’ by other people, it just looks like bad editing. The same thing happens to a main character, who inexplicably swaps genders halfway through the series. Granted, the character is supposed to be a shapeshifter, but it was still odd to have a major character referred to as ‘he’ for half the series, only to suddenly become a ‘she.’ There’s also some gay romance in the series, but everything is quite chaste, so readers hoping for x-rated action should look elsewhere.
Despite the pronoun issues, the series still gets a strong recommendation. I hope forthcoming books will live up to the promise of the first trilogy.