L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright once described her Rachel Griffin books as Fringe meets Narnia in Hogwarts. I don’t see the Fringe, but the Harry Potter is easier to see.
Book one is The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin
Rachel Griffin wants to know everything. As a freshman at Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts, she has been granted to opportunity to study both mundane and magical subjects. But even her perfect recollection of every book she has ever read does not help her when she finds a strange statue in the forest-a statue of a woman with wings. Nowhere-neither in the arcane tomes of the Wise, nor in the dictionary and encyclopedia of the non-magic-using Unwary-can she find mention of such a creature. What could it be? And why are the statue’s wings missing when she returns?
When someone tries to kill a fellow student, Rachel soon realizes that, in the same way her World of the Wise hides from mundane folk, there is another, more secret world hiding from everyone-which her perfect recall allows her to remember. Her need to know everything drives her to investigate. Rushing forward where others fear to tread, Rachel finds herself beset by wraiths, magical pranks, homework, a Raven said to bring the doom of worlds, love’s first blush, and at least one fire-breathing teacher. Curiosity might kill a cat, but nothing stops Rachel Griffin!
Imagine end of Harry Potter — you know, where the school is under full assault, things are blowing up, students are fighting, and great beasts are tramping around? — only as the prologue. There’s a dragon, and possession, and hordes of the possessed out to slaughter the school. There’s even an evil math tutor (Moriarty, anyone?). I was expecting a few lines from Maleficent, but not this time.
Rachel Griffen is 13 years old, in Roanoke Academy for magic, in New York. She’s English royalty in a new world, with classmates from all over the world. This alone puts it had and shoulders above the next nearest competitor, which treated America as a nonexistent land in the world of magic.
Chief among her new acquaintances is Siegfried Smith, who comes with a background of a Dickens character, and all the psychology that should come with it. (Oliver Twist is less fiction and more fantasy, orphans in the system aren’t that cute. Think Parker from Leverage) Siggy is an acquired taste. But he grows on you. Then there’s the magical princess of magical Australia. Then we’re off to the races.
The easiest way to review this is to compare it to Harry Potter. It’s not fair … to Harry Potter. Don’t get me wrong, while I enjoyed the books, the world of Harry Potter was so narrow and confined, you never got the sense of a larger world.
The nice thing about this is that we get the perspective of someone who lives in the world of magic, excluding the Stranger in a Strange Land effect. That’s right, unlike Rowling, who relied on the tried and true “Alice in Wonderland” variety of dropping an outsider into a new world, make them the primary narrator, and explain it to the narrator and the audience, Jagi has managed to make a complete world, encompassing every question one might have about how things work. We haven’t gotten to the economic system yet, but I suspect that’s coming up.
Instead of three primary characters, there are friends and acquaintances all over the place. There are mean girls, certainly, but nothing fits into the nice, neat little boxes that Rowling jammed her characters into. There is no one house of “obviously villainy” here.
Sure, there are plenty of ominous characters. There’s a Victor von Dread, who I expect to talk in all caps about Latveria. There’s a Salome Iscariot, who worried the heck out of me from the moment she was introduced. The characters are vividly drawn, and deeper than you’d expect.
We’ve also got an interestingly Christian world here, even though Christianity doesn’t exist…and yet there are words like “saints,” “angels” and “friars” that no one knows the etymology of, but uses them routinely. As Rachel wants to know everything, she has questions to ask herself: Wherever did these words come from? Whatever could they possibly mean? Why is there a statue of a beautiful lady with wings?
… And who or what is this creature called “The Lightbringer”?
Heh heh heh.
The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.
The Love at First Bite series.