4 out of 4 stars
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The Gryphon by Paula Grover is a fantasy novel set in a world where creatures we consider mythological exist. Sunsky of the Mountains is a young gryphon who is supposed to become the next queen of her people. She starts a relationship with Dreamspinner, but an accident leads to a meeting with Nightsky, a winged horse. Relationships between gryphons and winged horses are forbidden, but Sunsky falls for Nightsky. When she realizes she's pregnant, she discovers that she's expecting children from both Dreamspinner and Nightsky. The winged horse's baby is a hippogryph whose birth triggers a series of events that shock all the gryphonic creatures. Sunsky violated gryphonic laws with the consequence that she lost the right to become the next queen of the gryphons and gets exiled. Her half-sister Talona replaces her as the next queen, but she's hungry for power.
Gryphons, or griffins, are mythological creatures whose bodies are a mix of lions and eagles. Depictions in several variants were common already in ancient Egypt and various areas of the Middle East. Paula Grover picked various elements of this complex mythology including both winged and wingless gryphonic creatures. In the novel, a gryphon is a winged female, a winged male is called an opinicus, a wingless female is called a kryphon, and a wingless male is called a keythong.
Since the beginning of the novel, it's clear that the gryphonic society is aristochratic, with what we'd call noble families if they were humans ruling their society. Wingless creatures are considered inferior and are sterilized at birth to keep their numbers low. Winged horses, who have their own society in their own land, are considered enemies even if they're not really hostile.
Sunsky is forced to go to exile, but that's the beginning of her story. Living with hippogryphs, she learns to see far beyond the limits of gryphonic society and the physical differences between sentient creatures. There are similarities to human societies showing the contrast between closed societies, which can even fall into xenophobia, and societies open to diversity. That's the element I liked the most because Paula Grover used mythological creatures to develop a story about values that are very important in our human society.
If I have to criticize something about this novel is character development. In a story that spans many years, even Sunsky hasn't much of a growth. My impression is that most characters are used to show certain social and political ideas. Paula Grover seems to have focused mostly on the sophisticated plot.
My complaint is just a little thing compared to the novel's merits. A lot of food for thought comes from Sunsky's story about taking her responsibility for her own actions, which also means reevaluating every belief, and prejudice, she learned from her people. It's a difficult choice, but all choices have consequences, sometimes on all society.
The novel contains references to sex, but it's between non-human creatures and there are no details, so we don't really know how they do it. I marked a reference to kicking a character in the butt as borderline profanity, and that's the strongest existing in the novel. For these reasons, I think it's suitable for teenagers as well. The editing is excellent as I found only a misspelled name. The result of all of this is in my opinion excellent, so I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. If you want to read a fantasy novel with important social and political elements, I recommend The Gryphon.
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