Review: Lord of the Changing Winds
By chapter two of LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS I began to worry that Rachel Neumeier would make me suffer through new-author syndrome: the first fifty pages stiffly sets up a predictable story, using too-formal prose, repetitive descriptions, and clumsy world building. But I kept reading, because despite a not very illustrious beginning, the prose has some delightful metaphors and turns of phrase that spoke to the author’s cleverness with words.
Griffins take center stage here–this isn’t another dragon story (thank heavens, no). These are not your standard mythological creatures, they have their own magic, which is tied closely to fire and the desert. But they’re at odds with the humans they must share the land with, as griffin fire magic is the antithesis of human earth magic. They are a species without the sensibilities of humans, and as a result there’s little possibility for living peaceably.
Enter Kes, the timid younger sister of a small town’s horse breeder. The griffins, having been ousted from their desert by the cold mages in another country, have taken residence in the mountains, terraforming the landscape into a desert to better suit them. When a stranger visits the town asking for help, Kes goes with him and discovers that he’s a griffin mage; she agrees to help heal the wounds of the fleeing griffins, and her life is changed forever.
In the capital, the Lord of the Delta, Bertaud, friend to the king, is sent as emissary to the griffins with the hope that they can be convinced to return to their desert. But he doesn’t anticipate the antipathy between the species and risks starting a war.
Then there’s the neighboring country who wants to invade and take the mountain passes and port towns for their own use–and will use the griffins’ presence to their advantage. You see? Fairly predictable. Just from this description you could probably outline the entire novel. You already know how it’s going to end.
Kes and Bertaud as the main characters are flat. Today Kes would be diagnosed with Asperger’s, a form of autism; and while it was interesting to see her cope with the situation, her character was muddled and inconsistent, with an unsatisfying progression. Bertaud’s struggle to understand what’s happening is the most compelling part of the characters’ development, and I enjoyed watching it play out, unfortunately he still lacked depth. King Iaor should have been more interesting than he was, but Neumeier’s attempts to show his character are awkward. Most most annoying? The motivations of the enemy king/mages are so cliche they’re boring. The most fascinating characters are the griffins, but the problem with them is neither of the PoV characters are griffins, which is a pity because as the ‘star of the show’ they could have used even more face time to give the readers a deeper understanding of their culture and they way they think.
There are other flaws. For example, the two main PoV narratives can be confusing when they speak of a non-PoV character’s emotions and motivations, making it feel like the author is switching PoV characters within a scene. And I swear this is not a petty complaint because it’s such an obvious no-no: using ‘almost’ or ‘he wasn’t sure how he knew that but he did’ descriptions. I mean, really. Using vague ‘almost’ descriptions gives the writing an unnecessarily passive tone, and ‘he wasn’t sure’ only makes the PoV characters sound indecisive and wimpy. She does it a lot, and I’d give examples but that would just make you grind your teeth. There are other problems with how Neumeier handles the armies, distances/scale, time frames, differences in countries (they almost felt like a couple of states in the U.S. in terms of proximity, homogeny of culture, etc), naming conventions. It’s apparent that Neumeier is still settling into her craft, because these are mistakes experienced authors don’t usually make.
Yet, LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS is still an entertaining read…because of the griffins. If you’re a fan of Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley, or Andre Norton you’ll see their influence in Neumeier’s writing. It has much the same straightforward storytelling, use of mythological creatures, and lyric writing. She integrates the magic into the culture and world: all humans have some form of earth magic, usually manifesting as an ‘affinity’ to a kind of animal, whereas others are strong enough to become mages; on the other end of the spectrum the nature inherent in fire affects the griffins and their behavior.
This book dipped over the edge from like into mediocre as a result of the predictable plot and other problems with characterization and style. But, despite its flaws, LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS has a great wealth of potential. Neumeier is building a world with a good foundation on its creatures and magic with a promise of greater things to come in the sequel.
Recommended Age: 12+
Violence: Moderate, some battles and blood, but even then it’s not very graphic.
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