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Gryphon Riders Trilogy by Derek Alan Siddoway – Series Review

Gryphon Riders Trilogy by Derek Alan Siddoway – Series Review
4.25
Book Name: Windsworn, Windswept, and Windbreak
Author: Derek Alan Siddoway
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: July 6, 2017 / November 3, 2017 / December 15, 2017

Windsworn (cover)My first recollection of gryphons in fantasy literature was in Dragons of Winter’s Night. In a world where dragons and their riders were in the spotlight, I was enamored with the lion-bodied, eagle-headed creatures ridden by the reclusive Silvanesti elves. Specifically, ridden by Alhana Starbreeze, who I adored probably because of my teenage obsession with elf maidens. While the dragon riding trope has endured, and even grown, gryphons have been relegated to the kids’ table: an appearance in the Chronicles of Narnia movies (but not the books), stairwell statues in Harry Potter, etc.

So, imagine my excitement when I saw the cover for Derek Alan Siddoway’s YA fantasy, Windsworn. Not only did the artwork harken back to old school Dungeons and Dragons, but also suggested a fresh new take on a childhood favorite.

To me, the strength of the trilogy is in its creative worldbuilding. In the back story, humans fled the downfall of a great civilization and its advanced rune magic. Among the descendants of these ancients include tribes that ride giant cats; the Scrawls, who can use less powerful rune magic; and an otherwise run-of-the-mill medieval fantasy society, whose distinctive feature is its elite gryphon riders.

The cultures of these three peoples all have distinct features, from their gestures, jargon, homes, and practices. It makes the world feel lived in and real, none more so than the culture of the Windsworn themselves—from the way they train and interact with each, and the colloquialisms they use to communicate with each other.

Windswept (cover)

The main character is Eva, whose circumstance of birth is left ambiguous by the prologue of book one. We know her mother died in childbirth, and there was some undescribed conflict with her father, the only token of her birth being a Wonder—a relic from the ancients. She is left in the care of a blacksmith, aptly nicknamed Soot. His own history is equally unclear, save for the fact he once interacted with the Windsworn, and from this, we can guess that Eva has some connection to the gryphon riders.

Flash forward sixteen years: Eva apprentices as a blacksmith under Soot and Soot’s golem, Seppo, and her only ambition in life is to become a full-fledged blacksmith. Her world is turned upside-down when Ivan, a Scrawl boy especially gifted in magic delivers her a rare, red gryphon egg. Then in each successive book, she grows as she faces new challenges. Like many of the main characters in the heroic fantasy subgenre, she is a noble, headstrong, and impulsive. Her narrative voice is filled with a mix of blacksmith jargon (“like a hot blade quenched in oil”) and Windsworn colloquialisms.

The supporting cast is mostly distinctive: Ivan, the happy-go-lucky Scrawl rune mage; Sigrid, the abrasive, newly-minted Windsworn; Soot, the dour blacksmith; Seppo, the Tourette’s-afflicted golem; and of course, the gryphons, themselves.

As with many YA fantasies, there is of course a love interest, but I do feel that Tahl could have stood further character development. As such, I was not shipping them.

Windbreaker (cover)Each book gives new insights into the larger plot. Book one’s stakes seem small: a whodunit story surrounding the theft of the red gryphon egg. Elements introduced in book one turn out to be bigger in book two, and by book three, what seemed mundane turns out to be an important plot device. The pace is breakneck. Each chapter speeds by, and each of the three books is about 200 pages long. If there are any dull moments, they don’t last long. The prose flows well, and is appropriate for the target audience.

If I have any complaint, it is that I had expected more aerial battles. While I don’t think I ever want to see anything as detailed and complex as dragon tactics in Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon, I really wanted to get a better feel of what gryphon riders could do. Also, despite the unique vernacular, there are many modern-day colloquialisms mixed in, which sometimes threw me out of the story.

Because of this, and my lukewarm response to the romantic subplot, I rate book one 4.0 stars, book two 4.25 stars, and book three a 4.25 stars, and 4.33 to the series as a whole.

Reviewer’s Note: The audiobook for Gryphon Riders Trilogy is marvelously narrated by Kate Rudd, who I also loved in Jeff Wheeler’s Kingfountain series.

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