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Sunday, February 6th, 2011 11:01 am
I'm going to put this out there first and foremost: I love cheesy books and movies. I've watched movies such as This Island Earth and The Happening more times than I can count, and have an entire shelf dedicated to bad, but lovable Star Trek novellas, urban fantasy heroines with the tough exterior (but heaving bosoms when it comes to the vampire/ware/fae/other of their dreams), and animal-bonding sagas.

So when I saw this book at my local Big Box Retailer, I snatched it up on the strength of its cover alone. (Also, it had an animal-bonding theme which, as I said above, is one of my many, many weaknesses.)

Seriously. I could have done a better Photoshop with my MS Paint. I don't know what is going on with those back feet (it's like the artist just gave up and drew squiggy lines for toes). And... does that guy have a jaw-beard? How very modern of him.

Sadly, this book turned out neither cheesy nor remotely lovable.

Here is the summary, straight from the back:

Being chosen as a griffen's companion has allowed Arren Cardockson to gain a place of status within the land of Cymria. But even with his griffin by his side, Arren can never escape the prejudice that comes with his Northerner slave origins. After an unfortunate incident leaves him in debt, Arren accepts the well-paying task of capturing a wild griffin, ignorant of the trials about to befall him.

Betrayed by those he trusted and forced to fight for his life, Arren has nothing left besides the hatred growing inside him. But chained within the Arena, where rogue griffins battle to entertain the crowds, there lies another soul crying out to be freed--a kindred spirit who will allow Arren to fulfill his destiny and release the darkness in his heart.

Spoiler alert! That blub up there? That is the first 290 pages of the 369 page paperback edition. This made for a very slow, very tedious read as I waited for the plot to finally catch up to where I was told it was going to go. Once it finally, finally got there, the last 80 or so pages rolled on by at a more interesting pace.

With the exception of the black griffin, the characterizations left much to be desired. The main character, Arren, completely owns the Woobie/Butt Monkey trope. Taken straight from TV Tropes: It's like this guy is walking around with a permanent 'Kick Me' sign on his back which is invisible to him, but all too visible to the rest of the world.

Everything bad which happens to him is stemmed from the fact that he is of a different race than those around him. (They have brown hair, and he has black hair. No really.) The weird thing was that it's implied he was allowed to become a griffiner with some trouble, but not much, and was even given a fairly cushy job in the city. It's only when the plot starts going that people all of a sudden decide his 'Northern Blood' is showing too much and he is subsequently stabbed, shot with arrows, pushed around, spit on, degraded, fitted with a collar that has spikes on the inside constantly pushing into his neck and windpipe (btw, they never really give a reason for this last bit. He just comes home one day, is beaten and fitted with this slave collar... event though he's not a slave, and the act of wearing the collar itself does not make him a slave. It's like these characters are doing it for the lols, and, needless to say, he cannot take it off and must suffer gallantly with it for most of the book). 

The entire first 280 or so pages of the works in a pattern roughly like this:

Character A: *Does something which degrades Arren physically or emotionally.*
Arren: How can you!? I thought you were my friend/lover/mentor figure!
Character A: It doesn't matter because you're a Northerner and you can't be trusted.
Arren: I am shocked and appalled. Now I'm going to confide in my very best friend, Character B.
Character B: *Does something which degrades Arren physically or emotionally.*
Arren: How can you!? I thought you were my friend/lover/mentor figure!

And it just goes on and on...

Now normally this wouldn't be such a problem. This plot is about a fall from grace, after all, and the author manages to provide it in a way that Shakespeare probably would have stood up and clapped for. (Arren and Hamlet have much in common). No, that's not the real issue. The issue comes down the characterization; specifically, aside from being the metaphorical and literal whipping boy, Arren has none.

For all that Arren goes through, I have no idea what's going on in his head. The author hardly shows us. She writes this novel from an outsider's POV, watching people treat Arren badly and Arren reacting to his sudden (and many) cruel turns of fortune without hardly a glimpse to Arren's inner motivations.

There is a point towards the very end where Arren finally snaps a little and decides to steal a griffin chick of his own to raise. We are treated to how he does it, when he does it... but not really why. It's a powerful moment, and utterly ruined because I as the reader was completely left in the dark... for awhile there I was thinking that he did it specifically in order to get caught and have the opportunity to face his tormentors in a public trial. However, there was none of that. Arren sort of explains his reasoning in a bit of uninspired dialog a few chapters later, but by then the incident has long passed and it hardly matters.

The one thing the author gets right is the dark griffin, himself. The reader is allowed to see inside his head and understand his motivations -- as a result I felt connected to this character as I didn't with any other in the book. I cared what happened to him. Unfortunately, he was saddled with a name worthy of a Care Bears villain. This brings me to my final point.

The names are God Awful.

The dark griffin's name is... Darkheart.

Fans of the Nostalgia Critic know where I'm going with this.
I guess it's supposed to be intimidating, but comes off as the dark purple pony from My Little Ponies with a picture of a bleeding heart on its rump instead of a star, or whatever. The reveal of the name announced with a lot of narrative fanfare within the book, which just makes it so much worse.

Also, just for the hell of it, say Arren's name out loud. If you're like me, it came out as Aaron (or Erin.) How about another important character in the book, Erian. Fairly similar, no? Confusing, yes?

Here's a fun fact: Arren's true name is Arenadd. But unless you read the author's not in the beginning (which I didn't. Reading before reading is for losers!) it's actually Welsh or something so it's pronounced Arrenath.

This final point a nitpick because it just happens to hit a squick of mine, but the author also dedicates the book to "Bran" and lo and behold, the one character who pretty much doesn't turn completely against Arren's name is (you guessed it) also Bran. Things like this always make me wonder what other characters she based off of people in real life, and what personal demons she's exorcising by having them all beat up on her main character. Ugh, I hate that. (Again, it's a personal squick.)

I could go on and say that some of the plot points don't quite jell up -- I could never really tell what time period this world was based in. They seemed to have modern plumbing in the city, but no electricity. And the main event which send Arren out on his ill-fated jounrey felt contrived in more ways than one -- but... at the end of it, if you don't have characterization it doesn't really matter. This book doesn't have it.

However, Arren/Arenadd/Arrenath does finally get hit with a clue-bat and goes through a complete personality overhaul starting with page 332. (He becomes a dark avenger, ala Batman.) So, if you're willing to take a chance, the next book may be promising. Personally, I already wasted 8 bucks on this, and the hour it took me to write up this review. Maybe I'll check it out if I see it in a used book store. Or not.

Dark Griffin by K.J Taylor: two and a half stars out of five

Sunday, February 6th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC)
This book review made me laugh so hard.
"It's like these characters are doing it for the lols" Oh god, they probably were. Just like... haha lets put a stupid pointless collar on this bitch boy then leave him alone to torment himself over why we put it on him! So I'm probably not gunna read this any time soon.
Oh I hate when they make a huge deal about someones name in a way that they think is shocking and awesome, but turns out stupid and ridiculous and makes people wanna bang their heads against a wall, then not pick the book back up for a couple days.
Monday, February 7th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
:D Thank you very much!

Yeah, the name fell so flat it was... painful. There was a story in there, somewhere, but it just got bogged down in the need to just make the main character suffer... ugh.

Sunday, February 6th, 2011 08:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this book review! I was quite entertained. I always like to hear other people's takes on various fantasy novels. I totally sympathize about buying crap books because they promise things that you love.

(I went through a period in which I bought every bestseller book in the Superstore book aisle that promised even a hint of werewolves. I was disappointed many times with lackluster books. :P )

One of the things that annoys me about some books is that the summaries give almost everything away. Unnecessary! :(

Furthermore, I like that you pointed out the lack of logic in beating down on the main character all the time. Granted, I do enjoy reading these kind of things sometimes, especially when there's hurt-comfort and/or awesome reverse beatdown involved at some point (see: why I love Zuko), but when it's just beating on the character for the sake of beating on the character and we get no hint as to WHY... it's not as cool anymore. :P

Thank you for reviewing! :D

Also, P.S.: cheesy names annoy me too. :P
Monday, February 7th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
:D :D :D

Oh that is GREAT to hear. I actually want to start reviewing more books, and I want to know what appeals to people and what doesn't in my reviews so this helps a lot. (And in the future, feel free to tell me if something doesn't work.)

I have to say... I just got out of a werewolf phase myself. It was sadly uninspiring in some ways, but kinda nice in others (as in, if the shit I was reading could get published... why, I might too! :) )

I think my favorite author is Patricia Briggs and her Mercy Thompson series. I might do a writeup on it later. Do you have any recs off-hand?

!!! It's like you read my mind. I kept flashing back to Zuko every time something new and horrible would happen to Arren. I like h/c, but there's a right way and a wrong way. Zuko's fall from grace was felt in turn, by me, because I felt empathy for the character. He took his hits, but he was more than just a whipping boy put there for the sake of plot. I never felt that connection with this author's character, which was a shame.
Monday, February 7th, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
I love writing book reviews. Mainly I just squee over them and tell you why I think you should read them, but I like reading more balanced reviews from other people, too, so... ;)

Offhand, the only werewolf series I would actually recommend would be Kelley Armstrong's "Bitten". There are many others in the series, all with very strong female characters. This one follows the werewolves, as do several others, but I think that there are a few books set in the same universe with witches, necromancers, etc. But her werewolves are awesome. (Must reread this summer...)

"uko's fall from grace was felt in turn, by me, because I felt empathy for the character. He took his hits, but he was more than just a whipping boy put there for the sake of plot." Yes, precisely. He has to grow as a character to realize why such bad things happened to him, and that they were wrong, and he had to confront the demons of his past (AKA his father). And still nothing worked out perfectly! But he was trying to overcome his difficulties.
Sunday, February 6th, 2011 11:06 pm (UTC)
You want a cheesy vampire book try Dhampir by Barb & J.C Hendee (yes that is the authors name) it seems for fit your criteria for cheese, and it is far better that what your describing in my opinion anyway.
Monday, February 7th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
Ohhh thank you! I'm going to put this on my list for when I go to the used bookstore. Vampires actually gross me out (werewolves are more my thing), but I'm willing to try just about anything for the right story. :D
Monday, February 7th, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
Here's another rec for Dhampir & its sequels. They're the good kind of cheesy, and they have characters I can really sympathize with. Well, most of the characters, at least - Wynn needs to have some sense slapped into her.
Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 02:09 am (UTC)
YES and she been the main character for the last 3 books, it time to move on, and yet not a deal breaker.
Monday, February 7th, 2011 05:38 am (UTC)
Please do more book reviews. This was fantastic.
Monday, February 7th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
:D :D Thank you very much! I plan on writing more reviews -- I'm in the middle of a tragically mediocre book right now, but it's not exactly right for this type of review. I'll have something out within the next few weeks, though. ;D
Monday, February 7th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
I know how it is! I've been doing a book review blog on and off and sometimes there are books that just don't fit the format.
Monday, February 7th, 2011 05:49 am (UTC)
This is why, despite loving both fantasy and sci-fi, I almost never buy anything in those genres, because in order to find something halfway decent, or even so bad it's good, you have wade through the never ending torrent of shitty and boring books.
Monday, February 7th, 2011 06:44 pm (UTC)
Your icon! Lol!

And yeah, it's sad but true that a lot of books just aren't worth it. But I see it much like fan fiction -- finding that diamond in the rough can more than ease the pain.
Monday, February 7th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC)
It's really true. A few weeks ago I happened upon a book called Mall of Cthulhu, which of course demanded that I at least read the blurb. I ended up buying it, and it turned out to be really good. I mean, I can't speak for it's literary value, but it was very entertaining and a lot of fun.
Monday, February 7th, 2011 08:50 am (UTC)
A most excellent review. It more than makes up for whatever entertainment the book lacks.

You might like Lisa Shearin's Rane Benares series. It's fluffy, fun high fantasy with lots of humor and plenty of great heaving bosom moments. Any book where the beautiful, lusty elven heroine is horny for a goblin is definitely win for me.
Monday, February 7th, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC)
*grin* Thank you! I'm going to see if I can sharpen my review skills in the future, so there will probably be more.

I haven't heard of LSR, but that sounds right up my ally. I'll put it on my list to keep an eye out at the used bookstore. Thanks!
Monday, February 7th, 2011 11:27 pm (UTC)
Good review.

You've stumbled onto something I did a few years ago. For a long while, I was a hardcore Fantasy/SciFi fan. So long as the books wasn't a complete disaster, I could get some kind of enjoyment out of reading about people with magic swords and dragons and spaceships and time travel and mutants with the power to destroy the Magic Talisman. (Bonus points if all that was in the same book.) Then, I stumbled across a couple of authors who were truly good at their craft, who, as I put it, "could make a piece of cheesing growing mold on the countertop sound awesome!"

Not so coincidentally, those authors produced exclusively for the Fantasy/SciFi genre, so I'm still firmly in the that camp, but it was a turning point for me in that I couldn't read the mediocre stuff anymore. It's not enough that it has a dragon, the author needs to actively engage me in the story. This can be done by the quality of the prose, characterization, plot, imagination, etc (I don't even need all of it together), but I need something more than usual props.

You've already discovered Timothy Zahn (check out his Conqueror's Trilogy for what I feel to be his best work), but other authors I currently hold in high regard are Terry Pratchett, Matthew Woodring Stover, Scott Lynch, and Adam-Troy Castro. (This aside from the classic greats, who I'm sure you know of.)

I'm afraid I'm someday leave genre all-together, but then I remember that so much as throwing a ghost into a story technically makes it Fantasy, and then I calm down again. ;)
Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 01:15 am (UTC)
i love Terry Prachett, its a shame that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.