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Griffin Ranger looks and reads on the surface like a heroic Western set on an alien world, but quickly becomes something far more Grim Dark - and far more interesting for it.
It starts out slow, describing the world and the rules that it operates under, as well as the major races and some history (such as the great Greenie-Griffin wars of the past). It's quick to see the parallels to our own world, and indeed, their world is Earth in an alternate universe.
When we meet our main protagonist, however, the story nearly derails, like a Rail-Runner hitting a tree across the tracks. Harrell, one of the biggest griffins in the world, is a Jerk Ass almost to the point of being an Anti-Hero; he plays like every bad stereotype of a Lawful Neutral Paladin or a medieval knight. Once he teams with the flamboyant, exotic detective Kwap, however, the story gets a six-pack of spike drink shot into it, and from then on it's a ripping yarn. Kwap is a *far* more interesting character than Harrell in the early going, but both characters undergo serious character development, particularly in the second and much longer book.
No Grim Dark story can work without a truly vile villain and our heroes quickly find themselves in a life or death contest with one such Genre Savvy villain, Whitehead. The tone gets steadily darker until it reaches near pitch-black in the Monster Lands, but it never hits the Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy nadir - there's still dignity and heroism amidst the horrifying evil Whitehead perpetuates. Even Harrell redeems himself from his arrogant beginnings, as he's the sort of veteran soldier that anyone would want to have at their side in the terrifying situation he and his fellow griffins find themselves in.
And Whitehead himself is perhaps the most intriguing character of all at the end - he begins feeling regret at his manipulations, particularly when a friend of his is killed horribly, and it's easy to wonder, at the very end, how much of his heart is still in his evil plan.
Takes a lot of investment at the beginning, but the payoff is very well worth it. Griffin Ranger is not for everyone, but it is totally worth the investment. Highly recommended.
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