The White Gryphon
Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon
The Mage Wars: Book 2
The White Gryphon continues Amberdrake and Skandranon’s story after the Cataclysm in The Black Gryphon. The Kaled’a’in and gryphons/other intelligent nonhumans have set up a new city far to the south named White Gryphon. So far south in fact that the ‘Black Kings’, the Haighlei Empire, comes calling, demanding to know what the refugees are doing on THEIR land. Amberdrake, Skan and their mates sail to the closest Haighlei capital to treat with the empire.
This could have been really interesting. These ‘strange black people’ come from a flourishing empire, a kind of mishmash of African and Indian traditions, and there’s cultural confusion between them without either culture coming off as superior. One of the things I really value about Misty Lackey’s work is the tolerance and acceptance. The Haighlei are not inferior in any respect. Just so different that it confuses the Kaled’a’in. And their culture is really cool.
However, all that aside, this could have been so much better. This is my least favourite of the gryphon books. I don’t know that The White Gryphon is objectively the worst. It just failed to live up to any of my hopes for it. It didn’t press any of my buttons.
Our main villain shows up right away, as a psychotic sadist posing as a kestra’chern. White Gryphon’s new ‘police’ force, the Silver Gryphons, exile him. He is given no motivation other than being labelled as a ‘psychopath’. Amberdrake ‘reads’ him as being a hopeless case, but we’re never told why. The other villains are also similarly one-dimensional, which is frustrating because some of the story is told in their POV.
The Empire was also not as well explored as I liked. The Gryphon books seem to be very much told by interior dialogue with not nearly enough actual scenes. So important information about the culture is delivered through us by dialogue exposition. We don’t really spend a whole lot of time experiencing the new culture.
The murder mystery that forms the main drama is the main culprit. This story would have been much more interesting without it: we would have to experience the empire through scene, and the drama could easily have come through the struggles of these disparate cultures struggling to communicate and make an alliance.
BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
The worst part about the murder mystery is that Amberdrake and Skandranon seem to have the situation in hand, and always seem two steps ahead of the murderers. Even when they are captured by Hadenelith, it’s sort of by chance and the whole affair is resolved quickly. Although I liked how when Amberdrake tries to play hero, he can’t, because he’s not. He just messes it up and gets caught.
It’s also not a mystery to us. We know Hadenelith’s motivation: revenge, the destruction of White Gryphon. Which isn’t a very good reason, because… Hadenelith is ‘just crazy’ and that’s his major motivation. Now, mindhealers exist in this world. This world is supposed to be WAY smarter than ours in terms of emotional healing. There are kestra’chern for gods’ sakes! Why the heck is Hadenelith so crazy that Amberdrake can’t help him and is just out and out repulsed? This smacks of lazy storytelling to me.
Another issue I take with The White Gryphon is the characterizations of Zhaneel and Winterhart. Now that they have children it’s as if they have no personality. They’re just kind of… there. Shalaman’s attraction to Winterhart is explainable because he’s actually attracted to Silver Veil. Not because she has much personality, apart from being really good at fitting in with the court. I have this trouble in the next book, too. Once these females healed in The Black Gryphon, they start being… perfect, bland, and not really there.
So that’s my thoughts on The White Gryphon. I’m rather harsh on it, I suppose. I wanted more culture out of it, and was denied. But I don’t think it’s a bad book. I just find it to be quite weak.