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The Black Gryphon

by Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Valdemar: Chronological Order (1000 BF), Valdemar : Mage Wars (1), Valdemar: Publication Order (13)

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2,459204,550 (3.73)42
It is an age when Valdemar is yet unfounded, its organization of Heralds yet unformed, and magic is still a wild and uncontrolled force. Skandranon Rashkae is perhaps the finest specimen of his race, with gleaming ebony feathers, majestic wingspan, keen magesight and sharp intelligence. Courageous, bold, and crafty, Skan is everything a gryphon should be. He is the fulfillment of everything that the Mage of Silence, the human sorcerer called Urtho, intended to achieve when he created these magical beings to be his champions, the defenders of his realm--a verdant plain long coveted by the evil mage Maar. Now Maar is once again advancing on Urtho's Keep, this time with a huge force spearheaded by magical constructs of his own--cruel birds of prey ready to perform any evil their creator may demand of them. And when one of Urtho's Seers wakes from a horrifying vision in which she sees a devastating magical weapon being placed in the hands of Maar's common soldiers, Skandrannon is sent to spy across enemy lines, cloaked in the protective of Urtho's powerful Spell of Silence.… (more)
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» See also 42 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
This takes place during the war between Urtho and Ma'ar, which began for reasons I can't recall (because Ma'ar wants world domination?). Most of the book is focused on life in one of Urtho's army's camps, far enough away from the fighting that no one there is in immediate danger but filled with humans and nonhumans healing from injuries and dealing with PTSD.

Urtho used his magic to create gryphons to help him in the war, and Skandranon (Skan), the "Black Gryphon," is one of the best of them. His closest friend is a human named Amberdrake, a kestra'chern (an empath/healer who uses a combination of methods to heal others emotionally and physically). The book follows their life and the development of their relationships in the camp, as Urtho attempts to figure out how to turn the tide of the war against Ma'ar.

This was my first time listening to this in audio form, although I had previously read the book quite a few times - it was the first Valdemar book I'd ever read, back when I was a teen obsessed with gryphons, and it became one of my comfort reads, although it's probably been at least 10 years since I last read it.

I was interested to see how well this would hold up after all this time, but I don't know that audio was the best way to do that. Gary Furlong pronounced most of the names and fantasy words differently than I'd imagined they would sound, and his narration gave the slower parts of the book more weight and made them more noticeable than they might have been if I had been rereading my old print copy. It wasn't bad (except for maybe the gryphon hisses - Furlong tried, but those weren't designed for audiobook narration), but it was definitely different.

I remembered most of the characters and their relationships, as well as most of their backstories (Amberdrake was the one character whose backstory I completely forgot). What I did not remember was how little on-page action there was. This was technically a war story, but it was so focused on characters' thoughts and emotional turmoil that it was easy to forget that there was fighting going on elsewhere. For example, Amberdrake tried his best to be everyone's rock while in reality he was one bad piece of news away from completely falling apart, and Winterhart seemed heartless and brittle but was eventually revealed to be a mass of guilt and anxiety.

Lackey spent a lot of time on character relationships: Amberdrake's friendship with Skan (which had some issues because Skan is not the sort to sit down and talk about feelings), Amberdrake helping Zhaneel to increase her self-confidence, and the budding romances between Amberdrake and Winterhart as well as Skan and Zhaneel. It was all blended with information about the war - for example, in an effort to increase her confidence and catch Skan's eye, Zhaneel created and worked out on obstacle courses that led to her being given an important role in one of the battles. Still, there were times I found myself thinking that the story was extremely slow, and I wonder how much of that was this reread (enough time for me to not be so affected by nostalgia?) and how much was due to the audio format making the pacing more obvious.

During this reread, I found myself viewing Urtho's army from more of an organizational leadership perspective. I imagine Urtho had a limited number of people he could promote or demote without risking further problems among his ranks, but there were at least a couple characters who were perfect examples of why it's dangerous to just shuffle toxic employees around. It was frustrating to watch.

All in all, I enjoyed seeing Amberdrake, Skan, and Zhaneel again, but this didn't work as well for me as I remembered. At some point I'll have to reread my paper copy to see if that makes a difference, and then continue on from there to The White Gryphon and The Silver Gryphon, which I don't think I've ever reread.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | Jan 11, 2021 |
Took a long time to get all the new species, cultures, places, and people straight. Not as well introduced as in some of her other books.
  yonitdm | Dec 10, 2015 |
Took a long time to get all the new species, cultures, places, and people straight. Not as well introduced as in some of her other books. ( )
  yonitdm | Dec 10, 2015 |
The entire Valdemar series is a favorite of mine and one that I have reread repeatedly over the years. The series unfolds in the form of trilogies, duologies, singles, etc., and this series, Mage Wars, is the start of it all.

The Black Gryphon takes place long before the Valdemar kingdom is founded, a time of magic and the fight for power. A war is brewing between two great mages, Urtho and Maar. Urtho wants nothing more than to protect his realm and the people in it. To that end, he has created a race of magical creatures to act as champions and protectors of the realm... the gryphons. Skandranon is the best of the best of these creatures... strong, brave, and of human intelligence, capable of independent thought. Maar, too, has created his own magical constructs, the makaar. These creatures, like gryphons, are supposed to be champions to the cause, but who answer only to Maar, whose quest is only for power.

Although Skan is at the center of the book, of equal immportance is Amberdrake. Drake is Skan's best friend, a human friend who is also a member of Urtho's troops, working among the troops as a kestra'churn. A kestra'churn is a combination of massage therapist, counselor, and social worker. Also important to the series is Zaneel, a new breed of gryfalcon, and Winterhart, a human trond'irn (a caregiver for the gryphons). Both of these ladies have issues of their own and their stories add so much to the story, not just for their own characters, but for development of Skan and Drake as well.

The characters are engaging, even if their arcs concern timeworm themes of gaining confidence, learning to let in others, etc. The dynamic between Skan and Drake is fantastic, despite the difference in species. They play off of one another and it makes for some unexpected humor. Gesten, a supporting character and a hertasi (a lizard-like, intelligent creature), is a bit on the sarcastic side, but his interplay with both Skan and Drake is great, often witty and sometimes just as the voice of reason. Zaneel is one of my favorites, her story alll about turning those things that you see as faults into strengths. Winterhart was not my favorite, despite her importance. She tended to let herself get wrapped up in bad situations without doing anything to stop them from drowning her. Because of that, she wound up taking it out on those around her. Her character probably changed the most throughout the story and, by the end, I sympathized with her. A standout favorite is Kechara, a misborn gryphon who is a supporting character, but adds warmth and sweetness to the story.

My Recommendation: If you enjoy high fantasy, then this is a fantastic series to read! The entire series was published out of order (in terms of the world's chronology), so I would suggest reading it in the order suggested on the author's website. ( )
  Kiki870 | Aug 19, 2015 |
Chronologically speaking, this is the first in the series of stories that Mercedes Lackey and her husband Larry Dixon - along with may other authors - have written in this milleau. We learn the beginnings of the story of Valdemar and the Mage Winds that afflicted that kingdom so many centuries in the future. This story basically covers the initial war between Urtho and Maar and its destructive ending.

Overall, though, on this read-through I found it rather light despite their attempts to add emotional depths to the characters ( )
  JohnFair | Mar 22, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lackey, Mercedesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dixon, Larrymain authorall editionsconfirmed
Barber, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, Jody A.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
Dedicated to Mel. White, Coyote Woman A legend in the hearts of all who know her
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Silence. Cold wind played against Skandranon's nares-a wind as frigid as the hearts of th killers below.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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It is an age when Valdemar is yet unfounded, its organization of Heralds yet unformed, and magic is still a wild and uncontrolled force. Skandranon Rashkae is perhaps the finest specimen of his race, with gleaming ebony feathers, majestic wingspan, keen magesight and sharp intelligence. Courageous, bold, and crafty, Skan is everything a gryphon should be. He is the fulfillment of everything that the Mage of Silence, the human sorcerer called Urtho, intended to achieve when he created these magical beings to be his champions, the defenders of his realm--a verdant plain long coveted by the evil mage Maar. Now Maar is once again advancing on Urtho's Keep, this time with a huge force spearheaded by magical constructs of his own--cruel birds of prey ready to perform any evil their creator may demand of them. And when one of Urtho's Seers wakes from a horrifying vision in which she sees a devastating magical weapon being placed in the hands of Maar's common soldiers, Skandrannon is sent to spy across enemy lines, cloaked in the protective of Urtho's powerful Spell of Silence.

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