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. (from Amazon)
I probably would have never bought this book if a) I hadn’t got the third one for free and b) this one plus the second one was on sale in an omnibus version a few years ago when c) I was flush with money and buying books wily-nily. There’s just something about the cover and summary that doesn’t really speak to me, you know? Luckily, however, it’s been so long since I originally purchased them1 I’d completely forgotten about the summary and the cover and basically everything that originally turned me off from reading it.2
So I went into it fresh! And I’m glad I did, because I think this is the sort of book that, if you have a lot of preconceived notions about it, you’ll end up disappointed or annoying. It’s about griffins, yes, and mages, yes, but not in the usual way.
What I mean, is: it’s less like a J.R.R. Tolkien sort of book and more like an Elizabeth Bear or even a Jo Walton sort of book. Which is fabulous! Because lately I’ve been way more into EB/JW sorts of books than JRRT sorts of books, and so even though this one is much slower and more boring than I’d like, I still overall enjoyed it.
It’s kind of unfortunate how slow this one is, actually. Slow and, yes, boring, and I think it’s because the protagonist herself is so boring. Kes is in no way an action heroine– she’s shy and almost mute, and she’s so naive and childish that it’s almost unbearable. I suppose there’s something unique in having a protagonist who is almost the exact opposite of, like, every other fantasy heroine ever, but personally I just get really annoyed. Banal protagonists slow the book down, and it makes it really hard to keep reading.
It took a super long time for her to develop any sort of backbone, and most of it happens after she loses the majority of her humanity. However– and this is the best part– other characters do take over the narrative sometimes3 So it’s not just Kes wandering around in the book being boring. We get a break! Yay!
THE GRIFFINS! Okay, let’s talk about the griffins. They are SCARY. Like, I’m used to non-human characters being…well, non-human, but usually the narration is able to explain what they’re thinking/feeling/etc., which then humanizes them! So even if they’re still scary, they’re scary in a way you can understand. The griffins in this story? Can’t be understood. Plus, all the humans who interact with them have only a superficial understanding of what’s going on in the griffin brains.4 So a lot of what’s shown is griffins staring at humans with their creepy eagle-like eyes, killing and/or attacking humans, and plotting how they can best kill and/or attack humans. Which I liked, because it’s so different from the majority of other books I’ve read! And also kind of terrifying. And yet it was also weirdly blah, because reading about people (the griffins don’t get a POV) who don’t understand what’s going on for a million pages is tiring.5
If you actually IGNORE the griffin characters (including Kes), though, the rest of the book is really good! Maybe I’m just not into griffins, or maybe Kes is just a terrible narrator, but I really liked the bits of the book that weren’t narrated by her and/or focused solely on the griffins. These bits? Are the reason I decided to read the second book. And I’m SO GLAD I decided to read the second book, because it’s MUCH better than this book. It’s so much better I nearly want to say to skip this book and start with the second one, but there are certain plot points in this first one that you need to know about to understand the second book, so…bah.
Lord of the Changing Winds isn’t my favorite fantasy book, but the rest of the trilogy is DEFINITELY worth reading. And even though I slogged through this one, I still managed to mostly enjoy myself. I think it was because of the awesome secondary characters, including the baddies-who-aren’t-really! Love those secondary characters, man.
Read: March 24, 2012
Read an extract of Lord of the Changing Winds here at the author’s website!
Rachel Neumeier has a new book coming out in July: House of Shadows! It looks v. interesting.