Thursday, August 5, 2010

Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones, a book review

Year of the Griffin is a sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm. Actually, it's more of a sequel than Diana Wynne Jones usually writes: It happens shortly after the events of Derkholm and features most of the same characters.

This time, however, the main character is Elda, one of Derk's griffin daughters. She has had better luck than Blade in persuading her father to send her to the university to study magic. There, she meets and befriends an oddly assorted group of freshmen--Lukin, crown prince of Luteria; Ruskin, a dwarven artisan; Claudia, sister of the Emperor of the South; Felim, brother of the Emir; and Olga, who is evidently rich but who will not say where she is from. All of these people, it turns out, are attending the school without permission, and both Claudia and Lukin have powerful jinxes that keep their magic from working right. The group quickly realizes that they are not being taught the magic they want and, soon, need, to know, so they form an informal study group to learn on their own, checking out books as needed from the magical library (and I want a library with a catalog like that).

The book is an enjoyable, light read, but not one of my favorites.

Partly, this is a matter of thwarted expectation: The first time I read it, I was disappointed to find that it was not as funny as Dark Lord of Derkholm--it really can't be, since that story has already been told, and the parody is over. Also, the book is more standard-issue than DWJ usually writes--leaving aside the magic, it's a fairly typical going-away-to college and beginning to grow up story--new friends, coffee, crushes on and quarrels with teachers, new love, pretty much what one expects from the genre (type? subset? What does one call a book-type that crosses the recognized genres?).

Of course, "leaving aside the magic" is a big leaving aside: The magic provides much of the book's fun as the students try new spells and casually vary the instructions to suit their equipment, using orange peels rather than chalk to form diagrams, for example, or building a pentagram of books instead of drawing it out--both of which have interesting results once the spells activate. And it is a delight to see Blade and Kit acting together as a trained team and to take a quick look to find out how Calette and Don are doing.

Do I recommend it? Of course. It's by Diana Wynne Jones, isn't it? Do I think it's her best? Nope.

For other views, see this review at Jenny's Books.


  1. It's funny how reactions differ so widely. I'm terribly fond of Year of the Griffin, and I am always going back and forth about whether I like it better, or Dark Lord of Derkholm. I was disappointed at first that Elda was the point-of-view character, but I ended up loving the book (and Elda).

    My recollection is that there's a fair space of time, though, between DLoD and this. Doesn't someone say Shona's got three kids? It's got to be several years at least--Elda was ten in Dark Lord. (I think?)

  2. It's eight years later.