[Malin] I've had the pleasure this year of working on M.C.A. Hogarth's "Flight of the Godkin Griffin," a story previously serialized on LiveJournal that Sofawolf is publishing in two parts. The first part will be appearing at AnthroCon in a few months, so I thought I'd take a little time to talk about what I like about this book.
Since Sofawolf opened up to novel submissions in late 2009, I've read probably fifty queries, synopses, and beginning chapters, and none of them grabbed me the way the opening to "Griffin" did. It starts out with a strong character voice and a clear plot: Angharad, the titular griffin, is called back from the brink of retirement to lead an army to a newly-conquered province where she is to assume the post of governor. Angharad is not happy about this, but there is no questioning the orders when they come directly from the Godson, the leader of her empire. In quick succession, we find out that the province has been unruly under the current governor, that the province includes people with many different belief systems, that some of those belief systems are diametrically opposed to Angharad's empire's accepted practices (to the point that instead of mixing species with an eye to godhood, they strive for purity of species), that there are a great number of half-human inhabitants in the province (as opposed to the empire's citizens, who are all humanoid with different animal characteristics depending on their bloodlines), that some of those half-human people are going to be soldiers in Angharad's army—mixing with her "human" soldiers—and that those half-human "mongrels" are commanded by Angharad's former lover, Silfia the fox.
That Silfia is female is important because Angharad has not yet had a child, and she has a duty to continue her line that is no less imperative than the Godson's orders. So the romance with Silfia, which of course blooms again, is ultimately doomed—if she wishes to fulfill her destiny. One of the things Hogarth does so well in these books is to avoid the trap of the romance in which destiny fights with love. These days, we have a dim view of destiny; the closest we come in this sense is an obligation to continue the family name, and where family conflicts with love, it is almost a universal truth in stories that family must lose, or else the story is a tragedy. We believe that love and happiness is our destiny, and any other fate rings false. Hogarth, though, does not allow her fiction to fall into that trap. Angharad's duty to her bloodline and her emperor is a real and potent force in her life, and she rekindles her romance with Silfia with the full knowledge that it cannot last.
But even that romance is just one storyline among many. One of the things I admired is that without resorting to paragraphs of exposition, Hogarth tells us through the story that Angahrad's duty to produce an heir is paramount by showing us the importance of the bloodlines of her ancestors and the beliefs of the empire that breeding species together brings them closer to godhood. The culture is painted, not in large, broad strokes, but through the personal experience of the protagonist. At the same time, things are happening: one of the mongrels attacks Angharad by accident; a mysterious hill-woman offers to be their guide; an even more mysterious shaman offers advice for moving through the province.
And Hogarth's characters crackle with life. The experienced, wise, but occasionally blunt and impatient Angharad; the fiery Silfia; the shaman with his humor borne of patience; the hill-woman who is guarded but driven by forces we don't immediately see... all of these characters are distinct and the authors's affection for them shines through the story.
Lastly, the part I will say the least about but which is probably the most important: Angharad's journey of character is affecting, important, and compelling. She is sent on a mission, but discovers a more important purpose, and of course you probably will guess that she questions the legitimacy of the empire she represents, because that is the way these stories go. Well, yes. And no.
At Sofawolf, we try to bring you stories that we enjoyed, and this one was a really fun one for me: well-written, well-crafted, and engaging. It's a great read, and I hope you'll feel compelled to pick it up and take a look at it.