Lord Of The Changing Winds is a medieval fantasy set in Feierabiand one of three imaginary nations. The novel opens with an incursion into Feierabiand airspace of a flock of griffins – they have been driven out of their own desert home and forced to settle elsewhere. Kes, a village girl, watches their arrival without understanding the significance, but is drawn into the heart of events by a mysterious, fiery stranger who has sensed her latent magical talents. Meanwhile the arrival of the griffins triggers a series of diplomatic crises between Feriabiand and the adjacent country of Casmantium.
In this fantasy world griffins are creatures of fire magic, set against the earth magic more typical of the humans. They are the creators of the desert – in a very literal sense, wherever they come to rest becomes sand. Griffins are also toughened, warlike creatures who do not shirk from death – their concept of “a day of blood” when death in battle is simply accepted reminded me of the oft-cited Klingon proverb “Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam.*” Kes comes to occupy a unique position –transformed beyond humanity herself, and accepted into the complex griffin system of relationships, she stands between human and griffin styles of thinking. Her own awareness of her gradual loss of humanity is fascinating and tragic.
I get the sense that the author, Rachel Neumeier, believes that griffins are underrepresented in fantasy writing compared to, say, dragons, and that her trilogy is a way of redressing the balance. Good call. Griffins really do add something fresh to what would otherwise be a nicely written but unremarkable novel, and the author’s fascination with them burns brightly: while dragons are often portrayed as loners, these griffins are social beasts with their own emotions, rules, rivalries and friendship-like bonds, far from their human equivalents: again, it’s not entirely unlike Klingon society. Their connection to the geology and weather is, I think, a very original element, and the fire-earth magic dynamic is well thought out, as is the “political” background of both the griffin tribe and the Feierabiand Court, and the many parallels between them. Human must think like griffin and vice versa.
The aversion between fire and earth is just one aspect of magic in this world, alongside magical artisanship and animal affinities which also play their part, and the legalistic written magic of Linularinum which remains a mystery throughout this novel – I look forward to finding out more about these different magics in the second and third books. Perhaps in future the author will also turn her hand to other under-represented fantasy species: The Cockatrice Mage Trilogy, coming soon.
*Today is a good day to die.