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Literature / The Griffin Mage Trilogy

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The Griffin Mage Trilogy is a series of fantasy books by Rachel Neumeier, centered around the actions of the titular Griffins, and the widespread effects their action have on the kingdoms of Feierabiand, Linularinum, and Casmantium. With the exception of the mage Kairathin the griffons themselves are minor characters, whose actions drive the plot but are never used as protagonists, and in fact serve more often as antagonists. Each book shifts the narrative to a new location focused on new point of view characters, and each book can be seen as a stand-alone novel, though their plots intertwine enough that they should still be read in the proper order.

The books are basically High Fantasy, with large-scale conflicts mostly decided by the actions of extremely powerful mages. Somewhat unusually for the fantasy genre, diplomacy tends to be a major component of each book's finale, and there is no overtly evil villain for the heroes to face.

  • Book 1: Lord of the Changing Winds: The peace of the small village of Minas Ford in the kingdom of Feierabiand is shattered when hundreds of griffon refugees flee over the border of the nearby kingdom of Casmantium, seeking refuge from enemy Cold Mages. Kairathin, the last surviving griffin mage, seeks out the local girl Kes to aid him in healing his wounded allies. In response to this threat, the king of Feierabiand sends his loyal servant Bertaud to evict the griffins from their land, sparking a dangerous confrontation.

  • Book 2: Land of the Burning Sands: In the aftermath of the Feierabiand-Casmantium war the city of Melentser has been swallowed up by the desert. Taking advantage of the chaos, Gereint Enseichen, a slave bound by a Cold Mage's geas, escapes from his master and attempts to flee to Feierabiand. But he is soon found by a mage who appropriates his geas, and sends him to the capital of Breidechboden to meet his daughter, an eccentric philosopher who is studying the science and magic of building and breaking. Meanwhile, the desert in the north is growing, and it soon becomes apparent that the griffins are preparing for some large-scale action.

  • Book 3: Law of the Broken Earth: Six years after Tehre, Geireint, and Kairathin created the wall separating the griffins desert from the lands of man, the wall is starting to crack. Bertaud has returned home at last to take up his position as Lord of the Delta. But during the visit of king Iaor, confidential agent Tan returns from Linularinum with a packet of stolen state secrets. While recovering in the estate, he meets Bertaud's cousin Mienthe. Another conflict between griffins and man is coming, and the two of them are stuck in the middle of it.

This series provides examples of:

  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Karaithin, the titular griffin mage, sometimes takes on human shape; somewhat subverted in that his fiery griffin shadow and forbidding demeanor still don't make anybody comfortable.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Kes doesn't understand other people at all, talks as little as possible, and is treated almost like a child by the rest of the village. It seems pretty likely she has some sort of social disorder.
    • Tehre is obsessed with engineering, specifically with what makes a structure fail, and will forget to eat or focus on her surroundings unless prompted by her friends.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Bertaud, a Celibate Hero who never seems to notice women and has a very complicated friendship with Karaithin.
  • An Ice Person: Cold mages, who train specifically to oppose their power to the griffins' fire magic.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The first battle between the Feierbiand army and Griffins. The soldiers hugely underestimate the griffins, thinking them as dumb animals and completely disregarding the possibility that they would attack both from the air and ground. Bertaud is the only survivor.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The griffins do not think like humans at all, which makes diplomacy between the two races a difficult and dangerous task.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Beguchren, at the end of Book Two.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Kes in the first book. Although she is very important to the plot, most important events are shown from Bertaud's perspective.
  • Easily Forgiven: Bertaud puts the king in danger by freeing Karaithin without even understanding why he did it. The king is not even angry the next time he sees Bertaud. He never gets punished or disciplined for it.
  • Fantastic Racism: Humans versus griffins, on both sides.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Kes. At the start of the first book, she's a simple, peaceful girl who agrees to heal the griffins because she can't stand the thought of letting them die when she has the ability to help. By the second book, she's basically an Evil Overlord bent on completely destroying the nation of Casmantium and anyone else who gets in the way.
  • Geas: Cold Mages can instil a geas in a person by implanting silver rings between their ankles and tendons. Once a strand of cloth or chain is fitted into these rings, the victim is forced to obey any orders their master gives them. This is used as a punishment for certain crimes in Casmantium, in particular murder or rape. Gereint begins the series under control of a Geas.
  • Idiot Ball: Justified. The magic of Earth and Fire are intrinsically opposed, and anytime mages of these opposing elements meet, their magic causes them to become overwhelmed with irrational hatred and distrust. This typically leads them to make very rash decisions which have negative consequences. By the end of the second book, everyone has pretty much figured out not to let opposed mages in the same room with each other during negotiations.
  • Lack of Empathy: A major characteristic of the griffins. After being made into a being of fire, Kes becomes this way too, feeling no emotional attachment to the man that loves her or the sister who raised her.
  • Lensman Arms Race: Magical version. Each book has at least one immensely powerful mage come into their power over the course of the book, each allied to a rival group.
  • Mass Teleportation: Both fire and earth mages have this power.
  • Morality Chain: Jos offers to follow Kes in order to help her remember her humanity. It almost doesn't work; in the end, it takes Karaithin's death to get her to listen to Jos and make peace with humans.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Gereint. Every time he is asked what crime he committed, he tells a different story. After saving Amnachudran's life, he is asked one last time, and it seems to be implied that he is telling the truth at last. However, less than a 100 pages later, his Inner Monologue contradicts this story (when he thinks that he has never killed anyone before).
  • Napoleon Complex: Beguchren is an understated example; while he is genuinely powerful as a cold mage, and has no need to worry about being respected, he does admit to displaying his wealth to compensate for his size.
  • Odd Friendship: Kes and Opailikiita; Bertaud and Karaithin.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: They are creatures of fire that turn the surrounding land into a magical desert. Their blood is different too, it is described several times as turning into something like "rubies" when it spills and lands on the ground.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Griffins do not approve of leaving survivors after a battle, as it "dishonors" their courage.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Both King Iaor of Feierabiand and the Arobern of Casmantium.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: In Feierabiand, it's considered common to be able to speak to and control a particular animal. Bertaud's ability to control griffins is less common, and only develops because of the fire magic Kes uses to heal him.
  • Story-Breaker Power: First we have Kes's ability to completely heal every griffin who is injured, infinitely, from a safe distance away. This essentially makes the griffins immune to standard armies. Then there's Tehre's making ability, which allowed her to break an entire mountain range from dozens of miles away. And Bertaud has arguably the greatest power of all, since he can command any and all griffins to do as he says. The narrative handles these powers by shifting to another location each book, preventing them from turning up to again.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: Pretty much everyone has an understandable reason for the actions they take, and wars are ended as quickly as possible and with as little bloodshed as possible. Starting with the second book, the griffins plot to completely destroy the nation of Casmantium, but since this is done as a response to attempted genocide on the part of the Cold Mages, it is somewhat understandable.