The White Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon

Beware, there are spoilers for The Black Gryphon in this review.

The war with the evil mage Ma’ar is over and Urtho is dead, but his people have survived. Spread as far across the world as they can, the Shin’a’in tribes must build new homes after theirs was destroyed in a huge magic explosion. We catch up with the gryphon Skandranon, whose feathers are now white after being bleached by the magic gate he crossed to escape the cataclysm in The Black Gryphon.

In The White Gryphon, we begin ten years after the cataclysm. Dubbed king of their new city, the white gryphon sets aside battle and glory for resolving minor conflicts and meetings. He’s not pleased. Skandranon and his human friend Amberdrake both have children now. They’re out of shape. They are bureaucrats. Ew. That is when a strange ship approaches their city, a ship filled with men and women with black skin claiming the new city is on the very outer edge of their nation. It’s so far away from the people in the nation and took ten years to build, so Skan and Drake are not about to back down. Instead, they go with the foreign people to their nation called Haighlei, ruled by a king. Tradition is key; Haighlei only allows change once every twenty years during an eclipse, so the people can seem backward to the more progressive Shin’a’in.

Shortly after the arrival of Skan’s and Drake’s families, there is a murder in the Haighlei palace. Then another. And another. There weren’t murders before these newcomers, and surely magic was involved, perhaps a kind of magic the Haighlei don’t understand. That’s not possible, though, as the cataclysm still produces aftershocks called mage storms that destroy all spells and make it impossible to use magic. Still, accusations ensue, and Skan and Drake must be careful about ruining their chances of an alliance and maintaining peace.

In my review of The Black Gryphon I complained that I couldn’t tell the cultures of various people apart. Because Ma’ar was conquering loads of land, varied people huddled near Urtho’s tower, suggesting they would not all have the same culture. In The White Gryphon I was pleased to see comparisons between the Shin’a’in and Haighlei — their dress, customs, caste system, ruling class, etc. A servant named Makke, who is more suited to caring for children but was labeled a cleaning woman, is a good example of how Haighlei might need to update their society. Makke can be punished fiercely for losing a single item of laundry, but her closeness to Skan’s family means she provides valuable information for the story.

Although Lackey and Dixon tend to keep their villains in the realm of mustache twisting and mua-ha-ha-ing, this time she gave us someone who scared me. When he had a victim under his control, I never knew if he would talk until help arrived or if he was going to carve someone to pieces. I hadn’t been that worried about the villain since The Last Herald-Mage trilogy, when someone was killing off my favorite characters.

While Makke and the villain stood out, once again the main characters seemed stock. Amberdrake could be any one of the previous Shin’a’in we’ve met in the Valdemar books, and his partner, Winterhart, seems like a standard pretty white lady with good manners. Here, Lackey and Dixon have missed an opportunity. Drake is supposed to play any role that soothes his clients. If they need a friend, lover, good listener, a slap of reality, sternness — he should be able to act, like a character in a play. He’s completely a home base guy, not militaristic, so he should always appear weak physically, to some degree, and perhaps more pacifistic.

Winterhart was very good at playing a role in The Black Gryphon. She hid the fact that she was born a court lady and pretended to be a rough-and-tough gryphon healer. Although she was miserable in her false identity, she was convincing. In The White Gryphon, it’s assumed the Drake and Skan are the leaders of their new city, making them and their families royalty. I would assume Winterhart would revel in delight in her private quarters with Amberdrake, or at least compare her two lives. Instead, she seems like most other female leads in the Valdemar books.

The authors’ writing is redeemed when Amberdrake has to do something rash and brave and he complains the whole time. THAT was what I was looking for! This guy should be so focused on his job as a therapist/masseur/empath that all the murders and political drama should send him running for a hidey hole.

And that is my beef with Valdemar books lately. I see potential. It’s everywhere, and it doesn’t even know it’s potential. You may wonder why I keep reading the Valdemar books. Surely, I can ditch the readalong and convince Jackie to try another series with me. But I don’t want to. Much like rooting for a favorite team that seems to lose too often, Valdemar books fill me with hope. For every shot the characters take and miss, I have a moment of almost jumping up to whoop and cheer!

The biggest disappointment? The numerous painful typos, such as calling Skan “Skin.” What do I look forward to with the conclusion of The Mage Wars trilogy? Well, I have no clue who the “silver gryphon” of The Silver Gryphon is. A new character? Another Skan transformation? We’ll find out.

16 comments

  1. Oh, you surely could convince me to stop and read something else. But I’m with you– I find so much potential. I think the Valdemar of my mind has expanded far beyond what Lackey envisioned. There are subtleties and intrigues and characters in the Valdemar of my mind which we have yet to run into.

    I’m worried that the Valdemar books will not get better as the publication dates get closer, sadly. It seems like the further into this world Lackey gets, the more bland things are turning. Do you think we just need to leave this gigantic story arc she’s been writing since the beginning? Perhaps Brightly Burning will give us the break we need… Or The Oathbound and The Oathbreakers, which were published in the late 80’s.

    Makke is my favorite of the new characters. She is distinct! She has a personality! She is consistent. I don’t know why this is so much to ask for. And you’re right, that whole bit of Amberdrake running off to be the hero, even though he didn’t want to be, was amazing. I particularly love that he screwed it up so badly. I’d love to see the fallout of that in The Silver Gryphon. I hope this event gives him the courage to become the leader White Gryphon needs! He would be an awesome leader.

    For me, The Silver Gryphon obviously means the military unit that Judeth seems to run. What are they going to do? Who knows. If another decade passes, it will certainly be Amberdrake and Skan’s kids we follow and not them. And that, honestly, might make me sad.

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    • I’m still not sure I completely understand the Silver Gryphons as a military troupe. Are they all literally gryphons? Are they silver in color, or is that just some kind of name to indicate a shiny rank?

      I noticed that when characters have children, we don’t see much of those children. In the Owl books people had babies, but those babies disappear.

      I’m going to keep reading the Valdemar books — I own them all and want to see it through — but would understand anyone wanting to try a new series. I have a lot of hope for Brightly Burning and the Oath books, too. I wanted to know loads more about Kerowyn’s mentors when we read her novel.

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      • I think it’s just a title. I don’t think they are actually silver. They have that silversmith who made the military ensignia for them in silver — which is probably the only reason why they are the Silver gryphons. XD

        Well, in this series maybe we’ll finally explore that these children become! I feel like in a world such as Valdemar there are many opportunities for us to explore the children of characters. This is a long-standing country and timeline of stories. There are definitely opportunities here. The closest we’ve seen is that Elspeth and Darkwind are both related to Vanyel in a distant way which, easily enough, makes neither of them closely related to each other so it’s okay their naughty bits touch. XD

        Wait. You own them ALL? That’s amazing. I’ll definitely be pushing forward for Brightly Burning and Vows and Honor. We shall see if things improve or not together. And, if they keep sliding, I might back off for 2021. *shrug*

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  2. One of the things I find most amazing about yer reads is how the two of ye discuss the stories’ interconnectedness. I can’t keep it all straight even when I have read a lot of them. I think that’s why I haven’t read more Robin Hobb. So many connected things. Too little time.
    x The Captain

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    • We’ve been keeping at it regularly without stopping, and we’re going in logical clumps, so the books make sense (although I do wish we had read The Mage Wars before we read The Mage Winds). The challenging thing is to keep reviewing and keeping folks interested! Mostly, I think Jackie and I are reading and reviewing for each other and for fans like you πŸ™‚

      I started reading S.M. Reine’s entire collection, and OMG is it so good. I decided to only review the first book and then the entire series, otherwise my blog would have loads of series reviews, which pushes away a lot of readers, I’m finding.

      Lastly, I didn’t realize you were following me on Goodreads. I just noticed and added you the other day! Sorry that I missed you.

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        • She did a great job in earlier series. Not so much with The Mage Wars, but it doesn’t matter as much. Lackey and Dixon explained all the relevant things to remember at the start of The White Gryphon (fall of Urtho, Mage Storms, new colony, Magic is hard now, etc,) to set the scene and poof: done. That was all we needed.

          In earlier series, she did a great job. I know because I was bored. XD I read all these recaps and was frustrated because I had literally just finished the book a few days ago; I didn’t need the recap.

          (The sheep are fighting now. This is shockingly entertaining)

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  3. Typos? Weren’t these professionally published? I know that’s not a guarantee of error free but you’d think they’d at least get the names right.

    Also, I LOL’d at “Out of shape beaurocrats. Ew.”

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