“Year of the Griffin”

Diana Wynne Jones

This is one of those books that I’ve read over and over, and picking it up again feels like coming home. It may well be the first of Jones’ works I read; I know that I read it before I did Dark Lord of Derkholm, despite it being the sequel.1 I think this may even predate Terry Pratchett in my reading history. Which is to say, I’ve been reading this book since well before I was in college myself. This was, I think, the first time I’ve read it since college, though, and it sure felt strange to be reading it from the other side of that divide. Two different kinds of nostalgia, all at once.

That’s really what the book is: freshman year at Wizard College. The overall setting is precisely as much a hodgepodge of Vague Fantasy Novel Setting as it was in Dark Lord, and the focus on this one little part of it does nothing to change that. It does make a delightful expansion of the concept, though, as well as that very British lampooning of higher education.

This has that categorical Jones book thing where at the beginning I don’t feel particularly invested, and there’s no individual moment where it really latches on… but suddenly I look up, and I’m 2/3 of the way through the entire thing, and desperately want to finish it at the cost of whatever other obligations I may have had for the day. She was really a master of that sort of slow build.

I think that’s particularly effective in this book, as it has a whole lot of different threads going on. It’s an ensemble piece; there isn’t one protagonist, there’s the whole handful of theme, and each of them has a full-fledged story of their own. You could draw out a Hero’s Journey chart or something for each individual character, and it’d work just as well—but the way they all interleave together, and support one another, is really what makes it. It’s a book about friendship, and growing up. Hell, it is a key plot point that they have a group therapy session at one point; that is, quite possibly, the high point of the conflict in the book. It’s not an action-adventure, it’s not particularly a romance, it’s… college.

I adore this book. You might want to start with Dark Lord of Derkholm, as it provides more context, but I can confidently state that you can do just as well the other way around. Give it a go.2

  1. And oh, would you look at that, I also haven’t done a review here of Dark Lord of Derkholm, so that’s something I may have to do sometime, as it’s also a wonderful read.
  2. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

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