Saturday, 12 January 2013
The Dark Griffin by KJ Taylor
Anyway, The Dark Griffin is a story about a griffin and a human. The griffin has an unfortunately difficult life, fighting to survive from the time it's born. I was a bit surprised when I started reading, actually, that the first two chapters are told entirely from the point of view of griffins with humans barely featuring on the periphery. Taylor pulled it off, however. In a section that had the potential to feel like a drawn-out prologue, I was captivated the entire time.
In Taylor's world, griffins are as intelligent as humans, have varying magical powers and can talk. The humans that ride them are called griffiners and learn to speak the language of the griffins. Arren is a griffiner, despite being of Northern descent. His people were, until recently, slaves in his city and he looks a bit different to the Southerners he lives among. The only reason he's allowed to be a griffiner is because his griffin bonded to him when they were both and there was nothing to be done about it.
Arren's story is very much one of racism and ostracism. Once Arren's position in society becomes slightly less assured, he quickly finds out how thin the veneer protecting him was. A lot of bad things happen to Arren and almost all of them are thanks to racism against his people. After a comfortable life as a respected citizen with some status, denying his heritage out of shame, it all comes as a bit of a shock to him when he loses (ostensibly only some of) that status. Suddenly people no longer respect him and constantly use dismissive language against him ("Oh, but he's only a member of the slave-race"). (Possibly not a book to read if you're particularly sensitive of/triggered by racism and oppression generally.) In the end, Arren's actions, taken out of a desperation the reader can entirely understand, appear to be increasingly erratic to the people around him, giving them more ammunition to use against him. There were some gut-wrenchingly tragic moments.
I also liked how the racism was not based on skin colour. The small world Taylor created was based loosely on Britain and so there wasn't room, geographically, for wildly different ethnic characteristics. It's nice to be reminded that an ethnic group doesn't have to look completely different to be oppressed. And of course, the themes of racism/oppression explored in the novel are widely relevant to modern culture.
The Dark Griffin is a compelling novel. Both the griffin and Arren suffer due to unfair circumstances they cannot be blamed for, and their parallel stories intertwine to powerful effect. Another brilliant fantasy read by a brilliant Australian author. I have read few run-of-the-mill fantasy novels (particularly BFF — big fat fantasy) by Australians, and The Dark Griffin certainly doesn't buck that trend.
I highly recommend The Dark Griffin to all fantasy fans. In particular fans of any or some of Jennifer Fallon, Glenda Larke, Rowena Cory Daniells or Naomi Novik's Temeraire books will probably probably enjoy this book. Having foreseen a burning desire to read the whole series, I already have the rest of the trilogy on my TBR shelf and intend to pick up book two straight away.
5 / 5 stars
First published: 2009, Harper Voyager AU
Series: The Fallen Moon, book one of three
Format read: paperback
Source: a real-life Australian book shop
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013