Monday, March 07, 2011

Review: The Dark Griffin by K.J. Taylor

First published in Australia in 2009, The Dark Griffin (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is K.J. Taylor’s debut and the first volume of The Fallen Moon trilogy, all of which are now available. In spite of a few good ideas, it is mediocre fantasy at best.

Arren Cardockson, a child of former slaves, manages the impossible and is adopted by a griffin. Suddenly raised to the top class of society, griffeners, he feels more out of place than ever. Arren falls victim to manipulation by those unhappy with his rise in status as he confronts a wild griffin – an orphaned wild griffin with a destiny of his own.

One aspect of The Dark Griffin that is unique feeling is found right in the title – this is a fantasy about griffins – not dragons, elves, orcs, dwarves, or some other well-trodden fantasy species. Unfortunately, it falls flat. The whole first half of the book just feels like someone decided to write about griffins because people don’t write about griffins very often – while that is nice, a book needs a bit more to it. Also, the characterization of griffins, who we see through their own points of view fairly often, feels a bit too human-like. This is particularly evident once we reach Eagleholm where humans and griffins live side-by-side. At first it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between people and griffins, which both confusing and annoying.

The plot itself is way too cliché. Cliché and tropes can be utilized to great effect – after all, they became so in the first place because they seem to have a universal resonance. But, for cliché to succeed, it must be presented well or cleverly subverted – and in The Dark Griffin, it’s all too generic. A young man in a civilization where he is a minority, he’s special (a griffiner), he’s conflicted about his identity, his mentor betrays him, the tired reverence of all things Celtic, etc., etc. The politics are clearly meant to be complex and dangerous, while never becoming anything more than simple and predictable. And the dealing with slavery feels like it came right out of middle school textbook. There are some solid ideas in here, if still predictable and cliché, but the execution is lacking.

Another unfortunate drawback is Taylor’s characterization. For the most part every character lacks the third dimension that it takes to develop a real connection with a reader. Arren is decently well-done, but as I get at above, he’s terrible cliché. The griffins fail to be very believable, and pretty much every secondary character suffers the fate of being one or two characteristics with no flesh to make them real.

As I was doing a bit of background research for this review I learned that Taylor was only 23 years old when The Dark Griffin was originally published. My initial reaction to this was – that explains a lot. I’m not saying that 23-year old can’t write with depth, nuance and subtly – I’m just saying that it’s much more difficult for someone with a relative lack of life’s experience to do so.

Even through all the issues The Dark Griffin has, it does somewhat redeem itself. Taylor’s plotting maybe poor, her ideas often not fully realized, the plot too predictable, but she can tell an entertaining story once she gets past all of the introduction and set-up (the first half of the book). By the end I did actually want to see what happened next. I was curious about where the trilogy would go from book 1. Just not curious enough given the other issues with the book. 5.5/10

4 comments:

RobB said...

Good fair review Ken, gave me just the nudge I needed.

I've got all three books and was wavering on whether or not I'd be reading them. Maybe because the author is Australian, I couldn't help but be reminded of Sara Douglass's work.

In any case, I've got far too many other books on the pile before giving these a try.

Neth said...

yeah, I was looking for something quick and mindless at the time I read it. Unfortunately, while it was quick and mindless, it still left a lot to desired.

April said...

I felt the same way about the book. It actually annoyed me because I expected it to be much better - I mean griffins! They rock! But, sigh. I was disappointed.

Jacob @ Drying Ink said...

Well, I've seen this book before, and now I'm quite glad I didn't put anything into it. I've seen brilliant characterisation from those under 23, though - and Catherine Webb/Kate Griffin did it very well at 14!

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