Decided to go with something a little lighter than Lord of Emperors after all, so I picked up Diana Wynne Jones’ Year of the Griffin. This is a sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm, which I enjoyed; it was loosely connected to her Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a travel guide that (very funnily) parodied by-the-numbers fantasies. Dark Lord imagined if that was an actual travel guide, and what havoc tours like that would cause on a world. It was fun and original, though a couple shifts to darker tone were slightly jarring. (Deep Secret, my favorite Jones book, manages this much better.)
The sequel is set eight years later. Elda, a griffin, has gone off to University to learn magic. (She’s the daughter of Derk, the human wizard who had to play the Dark Lord for the very last tour ever. Yes, they’re different species.) The University is in a mess, with financial troubles, deeply incompetent management and teaching, and a bunch of new students with various . . . problems. Like jinxes on their magic, and assassins after them, and parents who don’t know they’re there . . .
This is a lot lighter than Dark Lord, and rather dopey—but in a way that made me speed through it with a smile on my face, not roll my eyes and put it down. The shots taken at educational policy will undoubtedly resonate with a lot of people, and the joy of learning, one of the real pleasures of school stories, is done very well. I’ve read probably a half-dozen Jones books, some of which just slid right off me (the Chrestomanci and Dalemark books, basically) for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, Jones is so prolific that if you don’t like one, people will inevitably tell you that you’ve read the wrong ones, and just try this one, and this one, and . . . If you’re wondering where to start, read The Tough Guide first, and then try this review of Deep Secret by Dave Langford (warning: it reveals a good bit of the plot, but gives a nice sense of the book). If you like Deep Secret, well, you might like the Derkholm books. Or not. (But if you do, there’s a great big “To be continued” on the characters of Griffin, if not the plot, so you can expect more . . . )