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Book Review: Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier

Genre: Epic Fantasy
Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Orbit; 1 edition
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
ISBN-10: 0316072788
ISBN-13: 978-0316072786
Author Website: Rachel Neumeier

For Kes, life is disappointingly simple. She lives in a tiny village far from the centers of power, helps her sister raise horses, and hopes one day to become the village healer. But when a strange and fearsome man walks into the local inn one day and asks her to come with him, Kes shows little hesitation. Kes is soon caught up in a whirlwind of three parts, where two warring countries fight over land, with the powerful, magical griffins (for it was a shapechanged griffin that took Kes away) caught in the middle.

So begins the story of Rachel Neumeier’s Lord of the Changing Winds book one of the The Griffin Mage series. Not since Mercedes Lackey’s Mage Wars trilogy have I seen griffins be the center of attention in a storyline. It is a refreshing change from the overuse of dragons as the enigmatic, inscrutable but intelligent species populating a secondary world. Neumeier’s griffins are part lion, part eagle (lacking the snake tail of Greek and Roman mythology) and are race with quite different motivations from the humans that dominate the majority of the world, something Neumeier emphasizes often – particularly by contrasting the shapechanged griffin and Kes herself.

The story follows Kes as she goes up into the hills and finds that she has the special gift of healing griffins through the use of the magic of fire. Most of her people are gifted in earth magic, just as the country of Casmantium to the east is gifted in making, and the Linularians to the west have the gift of words. The griffins, having been chased out of their desert home, have come south to live in the mountains bordering Casmantium and Feierabiand, Kes’s home country. Through their affinity to fire, the griffins are slowly turning once lush land into a new desert, and this is something the King and his advisor Bertaud cannot stand. But the appearance of the griffins is more than just coincidence.

Neumeier’s story is fairly simple in its construction. A young dissatisfied girl (a persona of Kes that is not developed enough initially – her dissatisfaction is mechanical, a prop to move the plot forward) finds her destiny among an alien intelligence. They are threatened, and she, along with a few others, save the griffins from destruction by two rival countries that see the griffins as only a destructive force. Nothing complicated here. But the plot moves along smoothly, reminding me again of the work of Mercedes Lackey in its easygoing, yet fairly exciting tale-spinning. There is not a whole lot of introspection, the kind that can bog down other epic fantasies, but there is just enough that the characters are not wooden or lacking in a reasonable amount of depth.

Other than Kes’ initial dissatisfaction with life (a thing stated, but not really developed or clear) the character development is pretty good, though I did find the person of Bertaud much more interesting than Kes, as he has a real crisis, whereas Kes’s crisis is not really a crisis at all, as it is evident which direction she will go. The griffin’s themselves are written well, and Neumeier does a good job at making them different in motivation and thought from the humans. Her choice not to give the reader the perspective of a griffin, only to describe them and their actions through the eyes of humans was a smart one, as it makes the griffins even more alien, less a personification and more something with a wild intelligence all its own.

All in all, this is a good but not great epic fantasy, nice light reading, unique only in that it uses griffins where others might use dragons and in some details of the griffin mythos. It is a nice read with lots more focus on character and relationships than battle scenes. Lord of the Changing Winds a story of opposites working for and against one another, and of one woman’s quest to find her place in this world of magic.