When I entered my local bookstore for the first time after I started reviewing, I decided I should at least pick up one book I would never have considered reading before. The novel of choice was Lord of the Changing Winds, the first book in The Griffin Mage Trilogy by Rachel Neumeier.
A story of Griffins
As the title of the series suggests, this is a book about Griffins, and it is the first book about these mythical creatures I’ve ever read. After some research, I discovered that Neumeier’s Griffins are unique in that they are bound to the desert. These Griffins, half eagle and half lion, are elemental creatures of fire and air, and carry the desert in their hearts. The plot begins when the Griffins are driven from their dry lands by the Casmantium cold mages, fighting them with weapons made of ice.
When rumors of invading Griffins on his soil reach the king of Feierabiand, Bertaud is sent to command an army of a hundred soldiers to drive away them away and the desert they have brought with them. The Griffins, knowing they cannot return, have made provisions of their own. In a small village near the mountains where they reside, they have found a young girl, Kes, who can provide them with the assistance they need to face human armies. The price for Kes, however, might be high.
Creatures and characters
From the very first pages, the story of Lord of the Changing Winds has unfolded in a spectacular way, turning this novel into an absolute page turner, with numerous fascinating feats. One of these feats is, without a doubt, the use of Griffins. These creatures have never interested me much, but seeing them in this world, I can’t believe how wrong I was. Neumeier has managed to create a species that feels so different to humans, that are impossible to comprehend, yet not at all uncomfortable to read about. The choices these creatures make feel completely alien to me, which has been an intriguing aspect of the book.
Not only the Griffins have been well-written, however. The human characters are very deep and comprehensive as well. Their choices and struggles along the way felt very real to me and kept me interested in the story. However, I did feel these characters developed too much, too quickly. The entire story takes only seven days, but leaves almost every main character completely changed. Some of these changes even happen overnight.
Lack of world building
The fact that this novel is a true page turner with amazing pacing comes at a high price, however. While the world of The Griffin Mage has significant potential, it lacked world building. For example, the story contains numerous different magic systems, some of which were used extensively, but none of them were truly explained. The characters just perform their magic, and we never learn how that works, even though it is quite obvious that Neumeier has thought thoroughly about her magic systems. I feel that, if Lord of the Changing Winds had been just a little bigger than its 365 pages, its world could have received the attention it deserved, giving the reader a much more epic novel to read.
Everything fantasy needs
These concerns, however, do not mean I didn’t enjoy this novel, because I truly did. This book has every aspect I look for in a novel, albeit sometimes a bit shallow: believable political intrigue, creatures of fire, multiple extensive magic systems, suspense, plot twists, epic battles and characters to love and be moved by.
Why should you read this book?
If you love fairy tales and fantasy about mythological creatures, you will most likely enjoy reading Lord of the Changing Winds. I look forward to reading the next two volumes of this trilogy, which have all been released in 2010, and if the world building improves, I might even recommend it to any fan of epic fantasy.