Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Gryphon Trilogy

The Crystal Gryphon
Gryphon in Glory
Gryphon's Eyrie
'The Gryphon Trilogy'
by Andre Norton

3 / 5 Stars

The 'Gryphon' trilogy consists of The Crystal Gryphon (DAW Books No. 75, 192 pp, cover art by Jack Gaughan, October 1973), Gryphon in Glory (Ballantine Books, 213 pp, cover art by Laurence Schwinger, May 1983) and Gryphon's Eyrie (Tor Books, 248 pp, cover art by Boris Vallejo, March 1985). 

All three books are considered part of the 'Witch World' universe, a quasi-medieval landscape littered with magical artifacts of a bygone civilization. The artifacts, which are imbued with 'Power', often are teleportation devices or dimension gates capable of letting both malign, and beneficent, entities access to the world. The human residents of Witch World are not above entering into alliances with these entities, sometimes for evil purposes.

All three novels originally are aimed at what is nowadays termed the Young Adult readership, but back in the 70s and early 80s, they also were marketed to adults. DAW Books relied on many of Norton's novels to round out its catalog in its early years. 

All three novels in the trilogy share an unusual narrative format, in which chapters alternate between the first-person points of view of the two lead characters.

The Crystal Gryphon is set in the mountainous High Hallack region of Witch World. The lead characters are Kevron, son of Ulric, a lord of Ulmsdale Keep; and Joisan, the niece of the ruler of neighboring Ithdale Keep. Both are adolescents, and, as part of a childhood ceremony uniting the two Keeps, are expected to marry once reaching adulthood.

Kevron is presented as a something of an outcast, whose possession of traits of the Old Ones (i.e., the original inhabitants of the Witch World) means he has cloven-hoofed feet and eyes with horizontal pupils. Much of the narrative of The Crystal Gryphon revolves (or belabors, depending on your point of view) around Kevron's angst about his mutant heritage and its effect on his interactions with the 'normal' humans of High Hallack.

I won't disclose any spoilers, save to say that Kevron's ascension to the throne of Ulmsdale Keep is abandoned in the wake of an invasion of High Hallack by invaders from a far-off country. Kevron and Joisan find themselves struggling to  survive the depredations of the invaders, whose ultimate goal centers on accessing the Dark Powers lying in stasis in the Wastes outside of High Hallack. Kevron and Joisan must rely on their psychic links with the Powers of Light still extant in the Wastes in order to deter what could be the ruination of High Hallack, and perhaps the Witch World itself. 

In Gryphon in Glory, Kevron and Joisan journey deep into the Wastes, braving multiple dangers of both human and nonhuman origin, in an effort to defeat further revivals of Dark Powers. 

In Gryphon's Eyrie, set in Arvon, a territory adjoining High Hallack, Kevron and Joisan befriend a nomadic tribe of horsemen, and try to find domestic tranquility. Unfortunately, the advent of yet another manifestation of Dark Powers forces Kevron to access a mountain redoubt and its reincarnations of entities of the Light, setting up a final confrontation to determine whether Avron and High Hallack remain free of taint. 

After reading five (!) horror novels in order to post reviews for the month of October here at the PorPor Books blog, I was ready to take in some lighter, less oppressive material, hence my decision to read the Gryphon Trilogy. The first novel in the series is the best; it has a more downbeat, 'adult' sensibility and works well as both a coming-of-age novel and a fantasy novel. 

Its literary style does suffer from being written in the early 70s, when the genre of adult fantasy was in its infancy and Norton elected to use the type of stilted prose that presumably marked High Fantasy writing. Readers should be prepared for the use of 'nooning' to refer to lunch; people who are routinely 'ensorcelled'; and people who 'company' , instead of 'accompanying', one another.

The plot of Gryphon in Glory is mainly an extension of that of the first novel; the setting becomes less expansive, and the narrative focuses on the interactions of the two lead characters. The portents of the forthcoming clash of the Dark Powers and Light Powers reviving in the Wastes begin to get tedious after a while, and the denouement is somewhat underwhelming, but Glory is a serviceable sequel.

Somewhat inevitably, the third and final novel in the series shows signs of tiredness. It's not clear what Anne C. Crispin's contribution was to the novel (by the early 80s Andre Norton was in declining health), but it essentially recycles the plot structure of the first two entries.

Summing up, the 'Gryphon' trilogy offers readable narratives that center on the emotional and psychological interactions of the lead characters; action scenes are relatively few and bloodless. But the Witch World setting does not lend itself to the scope of traditional fantasy novels; readers looking for depictions of massive conflicts between warring armies, forbidding Keeps stuffed with snarling orcs, and aerial assaults by fire-breathing dragons will not find these in the pages of any Gryphon novel.

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