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Diana Wynne Jones – Year of the Griffin

July 13, 2011

87. Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones (2000)
Derkholm, Book 2

Length: 390 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult(ish. It’s not specifically YA-focused, but it’s not obviously NOT YA either.)

Started: 30 June 2011
Finished: 02 July 2011

Where did it come from? BookMooch.
Why do I have it? I was excited when I found out there was a sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm, which I really enjoyed, and even more excited when I found out it was a boarding school book.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 22 January 2011.

A school that teaches
magic should be better at
dealing with trouble.

Summary: It’s the start of a new term, and the Wizards’ University is in trouble. The University doesn’t even have the money to repair the roof, and its faculty aren’t particularly gifted: the head of the university, Wizard Corkoran, is obsessed with being the first man to reach the moon, which doesn’t leave him a lot of time for teaching, and the Wizard Wermacht, who teaches most of the classes, is strict, harsh, and uninterested in magical theory or any dissenting opinions. However, when Corkoran writes to the families of his first-year students asking for money, the University is about to have even bigger problems. Because of his six students, one is a griffin, one is a dwarf, one is a pirate’s daughter, one is the Emperor’s half-sister, one is a Prince, and one is the Emir’s brother – and except for Elda, the griffin, none of their families know they’re even at the University. Now the six of them will have to deal with assassins, curses, soldiers, a pack of renegade griffins, pillaging pirates… all on top of their schoolwork!

Review: Reading Year of the Griffin reinforced in my mind the reasons why I can’t listen to Diana Wynne Jones’s books in audio: they’re packed with so much stuff that if your attention wanders, even for a little bit, you’re likely to miss something, and in audio where you can’t as easily flip back a few pages, I tend to get thoroughly lost. Even reading Year of the Griffin in print, I still had to put in some effort keeping all of the pieces straight.

The result of all of this packed-in stuff (by which I mean: lots of characters, lots of POVs, lots of action and relationship and plot threads and backgrounds and motivations, and then maybe some more characters thrown in for good measure) is a story that’s fast-paced, funny, and thoroughly charming, but which always seemed to keep me at arm’s length. I think the sheer volume of characters kept me from getting overly attached to any one of them. Even Elda, who is the nominal main character, didn’t entirely win me over; she seemed not to have grown up much in the eight years since Dark Lord of Derkholm, and to me she read as way too childish to be attending university. As a result, while this book was without question very charming, and a good, fun read, I didn’t find it particularly affecting, nor did I connect with it on anything more than a superficial level.

Still: It’s a boarding school book! It gets some bonus points for that. And even books that aren’t particularly deep are still worth their while, particularly when I’m in the mood for a good ol’ lighthearted and fast-moving novel. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Year of the Griffin is technically a sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm, but the plots aren’t particularly interconnected, and I think it could stand on its own just fine. Recommended for fantasy fans of all ages who are in the mood for something light and charming.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Bookwyrme’s Lair, Jenny’s Books, Stella Matutina
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Nothing was going right with the Wizards’ University.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2011 9:52 am

    I was reading Diana Wynne Jones a lot, but sort of fizzled out! I really must get back to her before a few more years develop between me and reading her books!

    • July 19, 2011 2:27 pm

      Kailana – I still haven’t gotten *really* into it, I just pick off one or two here and there.

  2. July 13, 2011 3:59 pm

    I discovered Diana Wynne Jones last year (sadly I’m late to her books) and need to pick up a few of her books this year. I think this one is actually on my list.

    • July 19, 2011 2:31 pm

      Amy – Make sure Dark Lord of Derkholm is too, if it’s not already! They could be read separately but I do think this one is better for knowing the background.

  3. July 14, 2011 7:50 am

    How could I never heard of this one? It sounds great. I must track a copy down!
    Thank you for the review.

    • July 19, 2011 2:32 pm

      Carolina – I hadn’t either, even for a while after I finished Dark Lord of Dermholm. I’m going to blame the fact that DWJ has a big bibliography.

  4. July 14, 2011 4:27 pm

    This sounds exactly like my kind of book! How come I’ve never heard about this one before? Thank you for the review :)

  5. July 14, 2011 8:55 pm

    I’m fond of this book — it’s got that sort of frenetic everything-goes-to-hell thing that’s so characteristic of British humor. So I don’t mind that we don’t get to spend a whole ton of time with any single character. I think it’s fun to see all the characters as a group, all being friends and whatnot. I would have liked to see a bit more of the griffins from the first book though.

    • July 19, 2011 2:33 pm

      Jenny – Agreed, I did like the group dynamic quite a bit, and now that you point it out, I do see the “everything-goes-to-hell”-ishness that it’s going on.

  6. July 18, 2011 5:38 pm

    Oh, this is one of my favourites of DWJ’s books – I do love the way she skewers current UK educational practice in it. I really like the characters, too, especially Claudia and Elda. There’s so much to love and enjoy in it.

    • July 19, 2011 2:34 pm

      Ela – That’s interesting; I don’t know much (anything?) about the current state of UK education, so I bet there’s a ton of references that just went straight over my head.

      • July 21, 2011 5:29 pm

        There’s a lot of worry (particularly in the right-wing press) that children in UK schools are being taught only what they need to know to pass exams, and are not necessarily being taught to understand the subjects. There’s a lot of worry about “dumbing down” of the curriculum, and DWJ puts her own spin on this in Year of the Griffin.

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