Book Review: The Black Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon

Posted September 3, 2021 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

The very first in the Valdemar series as well as the first in the Mage Wars Trilogy revolving around Urtho’s gryphons and how their world was changed. The focus is on Skandranon, a gryphon, and Amberdrake in a secondary role. If you’re interested, there is a chronological listing of the Valdemar books on my website.

My Take

Wow, there is a lot of action and it’s full of characters! You can’t help but like Skandranon. Yep, he’s vain, he struts, he uses magic, and he learns that love is in the air, lol.

While Skandranon is the focus, it’s Drake around whom the story is spun with clients coming from all over the camp, enabling Lackey/Dixon to introduce us to a variety of characters and their world, set the tone for the story, and prepare us for the state of this world to come.

The kestra’cherns are a kind of psychiatrist, medical doctor, and/or masseuse — sexual and physical — whose business is to provide pleasure and support, to determine what the patient needs at that point in time.

Amberdrake is warmth. He cares so much, and his character arc includes his angst over the wounds his clients suffer, as he wonders who helps the healer. His past is long and varied (and we learn a good bit of his back story through stories Drake shares), surviving school and passing through war, even as he learned so many skills.

Amberdrake makes a good point about poisonous people who spread evil gossip: ” . . . they are bitter, unhappy people, and very little else makes them happy. They say what they do out of envy, for any number of reasons. . . . They have so little else that gives them pleasure.”

Those aligned with Urtho fight with passion, some with the need for vengeance. Some for money.

Zhaneel is a sweetheart who had had a rough childhood with her issues following her into young adulthood. And she’s still being treated badly. Her character arc is one of becoming confident in herself. She’s also part of the romance side of The Black Gryphon, and it shows Skan in a more delicate light. Who’d’a thunk?

Meanwhile, Winterhart is a coldhearted woman with no empathy and a lousy bedside manner, doing the very least she can. The general in charge of Winterhart’s wing, Shaiknam, is well described with his humancentric views and that he never completes a project. He believes he inherited his father’s (a famous and the greatest, as well as Urtho’s first general) acumen. Oy. One niggle is the relationship that develops between Winterhart and Drake. I wish Lackey/Dixon had done a better job of making it more believable . . . more build-up, more show.

Amberdrake makes several excellent points with a young Healer who is outraged over the transfer of one of his clients to Drake. Sounds like our own world where people make up their minds based on their prejudices.

Kaled’a’in Healers and Mages have been working with warhorses and bondbirds. Hmm, I’m wondering if the Companions come from those Kaled’a’in horses. And if the Kaled’a’in split to become the Shin’a’in and the Hawkbrothers.

While most of the perspectives we read are Skan’s and Drake’s, the story uses third person global subjective point-of-view from the perspective of other characters.

The most difficult part of The Black Gryphon are the proper nouns with their odd letter combinations and use of apostrophes. I do hate that part, as it slows me down (!), but I do understood how useful it is when worldbuilding.

A story that will frighten and uplift your heart with these supportive, caring characters.

The Story

The gryphons are a force to be reckoned with in battling the evil mage Ma’ar who seeks to conquer the world. In particular, it’s the black gryphon, Skandranon Rashkae, who embodies the best of what Urtho intended to achieve and their best chance to discover what Ma’ar plans.

For even now Ma’ar is advancing on Urtho’s Keep, seeking to take Urtho’s creations.

The Characters

Skandranon “Skan” Rashkae is a vain, reckless, courageous gryphon and Master Mage. Drake is his Trondi’irn with Tamsin and Cinnabar his assigned Healers.

Aubri is another gryphon who has to share a tent with Skan; Jewel is the hertasi assigned to him.

Urtho is . . .

. . . The Mage of Silence, and an Adept who leads the good guys. He’s also the creator of the gryphons. The hertasi who look after Urtho include Kelethen and Seri. His army of humans, hertasi, tervardi, and the gryphons are now quartered near Urtho’s Keep after their garrison in Laisfaar at Stelvi Pass was overrun. Urtho’s generals include the wounded Corani; the petty, stupid Shaiknam of the Sixth (Commander Garber, his second-in-command, is just like Shaiknam); Sulma Farle; Lord Cory; Micherone of the Laurys; and, Judeth of the Fifth. Commander Loren. Vel garth. Taran Shire is the trainer of the gryphons. Urtho’s mercenaries include Pedron’s Wolves.

Amberdrake “Drake”, of the Kaled’a’in, is a respected kestra’chern with a too strong Gift of Empathy and one of Healing, allowing for the mental comfort of healing and distance from evil. Skan is his best friend. Gesten is his snarky companion hertasi. Amberdrake’s Kaled’a’in family lived as agents for their clan in Therium, a city in Tantara and included his parents, Firemare, Starsinger, Zephyr, Uncle Silverhorn, Stargem, Windsteed, Brightbird, and more.

Other kestra’cherns include Riannon SilKedre, Losita, Lily, Jaseen, Protea, Loren, Renton, Rilei, and Marlina.

Other gryphons include Lyosha of the Second Wing West and Kechara, a misborn similar to Zhaneel, with a very strong Gift.

I think Dierne and Lysle are more hertasi along with Poidon who had shown Amberdrake a dance move.

The Healers
Healer Tamsin and his lover/co-worker, Lady Cinnabar (one of Urtho’s trusted advisors and a relative), are a lifebonded pair. Calla and Rio are some of Lady Cinnabar’s hertasi. Artis Cam lodon is the chief Healer. M’laud is a Senior Healer. Healers Lanz and Karly have an intriguing small part to play.

The Mage-Corps
Journeyman Vikteren is friendly with Drake. Snowstar is a Kaled’a’in Adept who reports directly to Urtho.

Kelreesha Trondaar’s Sixth Wing East includes . . .
. . . Scout Zhaneel, a shy young gryphon is different from the others and suffers accordingly. The proud Winterhart is a Trondi’irn, assigned to oversee the gryphons assigned to her wing, which include Zhaneel and Feliss; she’s also a Healer. She’s involved with the self-centered Conn Levas, a mercenary mage. Ividian is/had been one of Sixth Wing’s mages.

The Haighlei Emperors are . . .

. . . known as the Black Kings, of a land in the farthest south.

Kiyamvir Ma’ar is . . .

. . . , the Mage of Black Fire, an Adept, who leads the bad guys. He had been Prime Minister to the King of Predain. He created the makaar, a rip-off of Urtho’s gryphons. Kili is the makaar leader. Polden is one of his generals.

The Kaled’a’in are nomads from the land of Ka’venusho. The k’Leshya Clan, a.k.a. the Spirit Clan, of the Kaled’a’in took in Amberdrake. The wise Lionwind is their Clan Chief. I think perchi are prostitutes. Green-bands are rough field-Healers. The country of Predain was near Tantara and had the College of Chirurgeons who believe in modern medicine. Silver Veil is a kestra’chern who took the young Amberdrake in and taught him her skills. Lorshallen was another kestra’chern who taught Drake the Gifts of Healing and Empathy. A dyrstaf is an insidious fear-spell. Miranda thorns are an irreversible poison.

The Cover and Title

The cover has a deep sky blue background behind a range of brown peaked mountains. Nestled in a bowl amongst the mountains is a fanciful and colorful city of pastel domes and minarets. The black gryphon is in the forefront with his purplish rough-feathered neck, scaly-looking wings with feathers at bottom and curled around Skan’s body, tasseled tail sweeping to the left, his fore-claws holding a blue marble?, and around his neck a golden necklace of pendent pearls. Behind Skan and before the mountains is a misty white of overlapping rings. The authors’ names at the top are in white. Immediately below it is the title set in an arc surrounding Skan in a deep navy with a lilac shadow. The series info is below Skan’s tail plume.

The title is all about Skandranon, The Black Gryphon.

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