“Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.” ― Baltasar Gracián
My first vintage paperback courtesy of the Prudence and the Crow subscription introduced me to the wonderful world of Andre Norton and the fantastical realm of the Witch World series. It was so much fun receiving, and reading, a book I probably would have never experienced without the help of Prudence and the Crow. I’m so glad I found the service, and so happy to have found a new author to explore.
I was as keen-eared as any child who knows that others talk about him behind their hands. And I had heard the garbled stories of my birth, of that curse which lay upon the blood of Ulm, together with the hint that neither was my mother’s House free of the taint of strange mixture. The proof of both was perhaps in my flesh and bone. I had only to look at the mirror of Jago’s polished shield to see it for myself.
The Crystal Gryphon is the story of Kerovan, heir to the throne of Ulmsdale, who, thanks to the circumstances and result of his birth, is set apart from the regular folk in the Dales. When Kerovan’s mother gave birth to him she did so sheltered in a ruin of the ‘Old Ones’, mysterious folk who once inhabited the Dales, and Kerovan was born with the cloven feet of cattle and eyes the colour of deepest amber. Kerovan’s mother, the Lady Tephana, swore she could never love such a creature, and Kerovan was forced to grow up living apart from his birth family, with Jago – a keepless man of good birth.
With Jago Kerovan learns the arts of war. But it is the Wiseman Riwal that nurtures Kerovan’s true passion; a thirst for knowledge of the secrets of the past. With Riwal Kerovan travels to places feared by the folk of the Dales, looking for answers. On one such journey Kerovan comes upon a mysterious crystal pendant, adorned with a gryphon, and feels compelled to send the relic to the wife he has never met, the Lady Joisan. Across the land, Joisan treasures the relic, and dreams of the husband she will one day meet. But in the year of the Moss, when Joisan is due to take up her wifely duties, a bloody war sweeps through the land as the Dales fall victim to an invasion from the sea. The keep at Ulmsdale is betrayed and Kerovan sets off across the Dales to find his betrothed whose own home has been destroyed.
The developing relationship between Joisan and Kerovan forms the base of the main storyline and the chapters of the book alternate, being told by Kerovan and Joisan in turn. Despite having never met, Joisan and Kerovan each harbour a certain fondness for each other, each of them drawn, and warmed by the other. As though they are bonded by something stronger than the laws which connect them as husband and wife, a deeper presence draws them to one another. Even when Joisan mistakes Kerovan for one of the Old Ones, you can tell that she is drawn towards him, the strange ‘Lord Amber’, despite not knowing his true identity.
Norton uses Olde English-style dialogue, and a medieval-type setting to create a spectacular backdrop for a strange, dark and somewhat frightening fantasy world. From the start I was completely absorbed by the mystery surrounding the Old Ones. I can imagine the parts of the world that were inhabited by this mysterious race of beings appearing like a ghost town, deserted, but with an ominous presence alluding to troubled past. I am fascinated by old buildings and the remains of ancient civilisations, so the idea of there being such relics, buildings and ruins dotted across the countryside, which tell only part of the tale of a whole different existence is really quite mesmerising to me. I was so easily drawn into Kerovan’s travels, and got completely caught up in the mystery of his fantasy world. The whole way through The Crystal Gryphon I was desperate to know more about the Old Ones, and the world that they inhabited.
Thank goodness it is only the first of a trilogy! The Crystal Gryphon is a wonderfully mysterious and gripping tale, which combines the fantastical with the uncanny, and at times borders on the downright creepy. I don’t know what more to say other than I loved it and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trilogy has in store.