Griffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire by Darby Karchut
Griffin has been struggling his whole life to become a guardian angel, but it isn’t until Basil, an older angel, saves him from an abusive master that Griffin really feels he has a chance to succeed. Now Griffin must learn to trust Basil as his new mentor and gain control of his magic in order to pass his final trial and become a Terrae Angeli. But it won’t be easy with a cute girl across the street to distract him and his old master out to sabotage his training.
Normally, I try to review books that have something to do with disabilities, but Griffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire knocked my socks off, and I wanted to tell y’all about them before I went in search of my lost footwear.
I absolutely loved these books. Darby masterfully weaves strong themes like abuse, good vs evil, and healthy relationships with snarky wit and normal teen angst. Her style is light and fun and easy to read without losing any of its deeper meaning, creating a subtly compelling page turner that made me laugh out loud. I kept telling myself to slow down and savor it, but the books ended up in the bathroom with me a couple times because I couldn’t put them down even to pee.
Griffin is a gripping character right out of the gate, with his abusive past and his drive to prove himself to Basil. But he isn’t perfect. We watch him fail almost as much as we catch those brief glimpses of success. It’s hard to have a character who is always trying to do the right thing manage to screw up so often, but Griffin pulls it off with stunning style, and always in a way that had me longing to back him up. Alas, I still have not figured out a way to reach through the pages of a book to claw an antagonists eyes out. When someone comes up with that technology I’ll be the first in line.
One of the things that makes Darby’s books stand out from every author in the YA crowd clamoring for attention is how she handles a boy’s relationship with his role model. Too many teen books portray adults as stupid, clueless, or absent, relegated to roll-your-eyes clichés or conveniently pushed off stage while the teenagers whine that “no one understands them” – a guaranteed ploy to hook younger readers, but still a cheap one. Parents become a fixture, no more exciting or influential than the lamp by the couch. I’m not a parent, but as an adult, I resent this image that persists that I’m too stupid or too lazy to care about whatever problem the current set of teens is solving. Darby’s portrayal of Griffin’s healthy, trusting partnership with his mentor was less a breath of fresh air and more a gale force wind blowing the competition away. Basil was not only deeply intuitive but also actively present in Griffin’s problems while still allowing the teenager the chance to be the hero. Basil is the light that contrasts the dark of the abuse Griffin suffered. He became exactly what Griffin needed to heal and grow as a character.
I felt like the antagonists in both books were a little weak, two-dimensional with no real motivation for opposing Griffin, but, boy, did I love to hate them. Also, I really wanted to see the resolution with Milton in Griffin’s Fire, but that ended up happening “off screen”. A little disappointing. I was excited to see the brief nod to Darby’s next series with the Tuatha de Danaan. Finn Finnegan comes out March 2013.
Griffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire join a very short list of books that I couldn’t wait to finish so I could turn back to the first page and read them again. I can’t wait for Griffin’s Storm, the third book in the Terrae Angeli series, to see Griffin grow even more.