Thursday, February 19, 2009

Valdemar 02: The White Gryphon (Lackey, Mercedes & Dixon, Larry)

Rating: 4/5
Year: 1995
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes.

Book 2 of the first trilogy in the 26-volume Valdemar series. Only 24 to go. By the time I'm done, Lackey will probably have written another dozen novels for the series.

It's been 10 years since the cataclysmic ending of "The Black Gryphon." Bleached out by magic energy, the Black Gryphon is pure white.

The rag-tag band of survivors have made their way to the sea far to the west of their former home. They've built a great city in a limestone cliff--and they've named it for their leader and war hero, Skandranon, the White Gryphon.

The city is visited by envoys of one of the Black Kings far to the south. White Gryphon has been built on their turf, and the Emperor wants to see these strange white folks and their talking animals for himself.

There's a murderer on the loose in the Kingdom, one who wants to frame the White Gryphon and his friends. Conveniently, the Haighlei are so utterly regimented in thought and action that the killer and his accomplices have a ridiculously easy time. At one point the three of them dress as servants, and it's effective because no one who isn't a servant would think to dress as one--and the cops would never suspect such a thing! The Haighlei are strictly ranked by caste, each born into the job they will perform their entire lives, and even criminal acts are bound by ritual and tradition. Very convenient.

Lackey has a knack for hinging plots on conveniences. In this one, it's right on the eve of a twenty-year eclipse (I like that, a regularly-occurring eclipse that never pops up again anywhere in the series). Only on the day of the eclipse, the Haighlei culture allows for change. Of course the delegation from White Gryphon shows up just in time, and of course things happen that depend upon that eclipse. It just feels cheap to have such a weak major plot point, so I've got to have the great Moon-Goddess take a one-point bite out of the five-point Sun. She didn't even run with the notion that the Emperor sent his own delegation and invitation with the eclipse in mind, hoping to bring change to his people, which would have made the entire thing a bit of devious planning on his part--especially since the Haighlei had known about the settlers for some time before even approaching them. So there's that and the eclipse itself--regularly-occurring, never seen again, never so much as mentioned. Maybe the moon was later blown out of its orbit by an explosion in a lunar nuclear waste facility? Oh, yeah, wrong genre.

The only other stylistic troubles for me are the usual "quites" and "in the leasts" and "in no ways," and her general fussiness and wordiness. I think she could have whittled--in the least--one 400-page books' worth of words out of the entire series by tightening up her prose. Then I'd only have 23 more to read after this one.

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