Review by Roz Gibson
There has been a glut of gryphon books recently: Jess E. Owen’s Summer King series, K. Vale Nagle’s The Gryphon Insurrection, Dire, by John Bailey, and The Gryphon Generation by Alexander Bizzell (not to mention my own Griffin Ranger series). So now we can add the simply titled The Gryphon to this list.
Stripped down to the basics, The Gryphon is a princess story. With a mostly female cast, it definitely passes the Bechdel Test. Sunsky is the princess, set to inherit the rule of Gryphonia from her wise grandmother Queen Heartsong. Gryphonia is a menagerie of gryphons and gryphon-type creatures. There’s the winged gryphons, who are all female, the opinici, who are winged, male, and have the front legs of a lion instead of eagle talons. Then there’s keythongs and kryphons, wingless male and female, who are doomed to sterile servitude to the winged ones. Then there’s winged hippogryphs, winged horses, and regular horses, who live in the Valley of the Outcasts. There’s also an isolated colony of humans, called hopahs by the gryphons.
This cast of species has an interesting biology, and can all interbreed with each other. Gryphons can give birth to live young, or lay eggs that they keep in a pouch, and produce both winged and wingless offspring from any given mating. Even though contact between the gryphons and equines is strictly forbidden (according to the Gryphonic Code), everyone in this story is very promiscuous (which is why there’re so many hippogryphs). So in addition to her two full sisters, Sunsky has a half-sister named Talona, the result of a ‘courtesy mating’ her father had with another gryphon. With a name like “Talona,” she’s pre-destined to be the bad guy, and her conniving mother wants her to inherit the queenship instead of Sunsky.
When Sunsky is injured and nursed back to health by a dashing winged stallion, of course mating with him is the only polite thing to do. Since she’d already mated with her promised prince, Dreamspinner, when she finds out that out that she’s expecting she hopes all the offspring will be gryphonic. Unfortunately one of the three offspring is going to be a winged hippogryph, and Sunsky is given a choice between renouncing her royal title and going to the Valley of the Outcasts, or turning the ‘choal’ (chick + foal) over to the hippogryphs to be raised by them.
She chooses exile, which sets off the main plot of the evil Talona becoming queen, while Sunsky (renaming herself Sunground) raises her offspring among the winged horses and hippogryphs. Skip ahead a lot of years, and (predictably) Talona’s reign has not gone well, and Sunsky is called on to reclaim her throne.
The overarching theme of this book is tolerance and forgiveness, where Sunsky chooses a Ghandi-type approach rather than a bloody civil war. All the characters and species have to overcome long-standing prejudices, and in some cases admit their own culpability when things go wrong. It is rare to come across such an aggressively non-violent tale.
Stylistically, the book is an odd amalgam of My Little Pony type princesses, with characters that really sleep around (no graphic sex, however). In other ways the cast of gryphon and equine characters reminded me of the excellent Firebringer books by Meredith Ann Pierce. The prose at the beginning is awkward and could use some work, but it gets smoother after the first couple chapters. Unusually, this is a self-contained story, and so a good choice for people who don’t want to commit to a long series.
If you don’t mind the character’s laissez faire attitude concerning fidelity, this is an excellent story for tweens, and a good addition to the growing shelf of gryphon-specific tales.