Kerida Nast, bound to the Griffin Weimerk, and desperately trying to save her kingdom from invasion, returns in Gift of Griffins, sequel to Halls of Law. Gift of Griffins introduces a new major character even as the plight of Kerida and her allies and friends deepens under the boot of overseas invasion.
When last we left Kerida Nast, unwilling magic user, Talent, she had gained some semblance of a fragile alliance with a new Luqs, ruler of her country, with the exiled inhabitants of the tunnels beneath the mountain range that keeps the invading forces from overrunning the rest of the land, and forged a connection to the griffin Weimerk. In Gift of Griffins, V. M. Escalada continues that story as Kerida seeks to fulfill the entirety of the Prophecy and unite her country behind Jerek to try and drive the invaders out.
In a three-act (often three books) structure of epic fantasy, going all the way back to Tolkien, there is, in the second act, often a “turning of the tide”, an act or event that shows the way forward and a reveal strike against the forces of the opposition. The author sets us up for that turning of the tide in this book by first introducing a new viewpoint character: Princess Bakura.
Princess Bakura as a character was hinted at in the epilogue of Halls of Law, and here in this volume, she steps forward as a viewpoint character. Sent by her brother to be the wife of the pretender Luqs that the Halians have installed on the throne of Farama, Bakura has a big secret. She is a magic-user, and as we learned in the first volume, the Halians have an irrational hatred for women of power, especially magical power. Bakura dreams of a life other than being the wife of a man she has never met, and worse, being under constant threat of the Shekayrin finding out what she is, or at the very least manipulating her to their own ends.
Bakura also gives a window, a point of view and a worldbuilding opportunity with the Halian invasion. In the first novel, we see their powers and abilities from an outside perspective, Kerida and others having to work out what they are and what they can do, from direct observation and contact. Their motivations, goals and plans were understandably murky and unclear. In this second novel, with Bakura as a point of view character, we get to find out more about the invaders from their perspective.
The author seems to be, to use approximate Earth historical resonances that worked for me (although I do not know if the author intended them) to have the Halians as the equivalent of the Yuan Dynasty Chinese. We learn that the Halians that have invaded Farama are descended from a horse-riding steppe culture that moved and conquered a more sedentary and literate civilization, and together as a society has gone overseas for further conquest. It’s a rich new vein of worldbuilding for the author to give us, having already shown us the worlds of Farama and the underground world of the Feelers. The author makes good use of this opportunity to make her antagonists multi-sided, complex and with hopes, fears and dreams of their own.
This two-sided society of the Halians has tensions inherent in its structure, tensions that could be exploited by Kerida and her companions. And so we come to that aforementioned turning point of the novel, the real hub of the plot and structure of the book: a connection made between the young Jerek, the new Luqs found by Kerida, and Bakura, when power, and perhaps the Prophecy that underlies the entirety of the story and the universe, puts the pair into contact with each other. Bakura makes the choice to want a different life, and it is that act of rebellion and change that seems to be the potential turning of the tide of the series. The entire novel holds around it, even as various characters, led by Kerida, continue to struggle against the invasion, trying to balance Prophecy and practicality, war and power, what is easy and what might be dared.
I also really enjoyed the worldbuilding and revelations we get when Kerida and Weimerk visit Griffinhome. We get a glimpse at more griffins besides the young Weimerk, and an idea of what their goals as a society are. They, and Weimerk, clearly have their own agenda and ideas on how things should go, instead of just being plot coupons for the Prophecy that Kerida is trying to fulfill.
There’s plenty more to love here in the plotting and pacing, too, and there are losses, reverses, and sacrifices on the part of Kerida and her companions. Along the way we also get family reunions, excellent action sequences, more development of the magic system, and a world that comes alive off the page. In contrast to a lot of the grimdark epic fantasy out there, Escalada’s Faraman Prophecy novels are most definitely Hopepunk, seeking to go forward against fearful odds. The diversity of the case, especially in making women an integral and equal partner in Farama, continues to be a delight. The patriarchal Halians continue, perhaps unintentionally, to be set as an example of the bad tendency in epic fantasy in the past to make men the only agents of power. In a metaphorical sense, the Faramans struggling against the patriarchal Halians is a strike against that tendency in Epic Fantasy in general.
Gift of Griffins deepens and expands the Faraman Prophecy universe. I strongly look forward to seeing where the story proceeds from here.