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A great addition to the High Hallack cycle of Witch World
on 24 March 2009
"The Crystal Gryphon" is one of my favorite Witch World novels among the many five-star fantasies in this series by Lifetime Grand Master of Fantasy, Andre Norton (Alice Mary North).
Like "Year of the Unicorn," 'Gryphon' takes place in the Dales and wastelands of High Hallack, as opposed to Norton's original Witch World settings of Estcarp and Escore, where Simon Tregarth and his family did battle with out-worlders and evil magic.
The story alternates between Kerovan, lord-heir in Ulmsdale of High Hallack, and Joisan, high-born maid of Ithkrypt in Ithdale of High Hallack, who is wedded to Kerovan by proxy when she is only eight. At first, there are few changes to her life as she will remain with her own kin until of suitable age:
It is so easy to get caught up in Norton's fantasy world. She puts her reader right into the midst of the feasting, mayhem, and magic. It's almost like being set down into the midst of a medieval Book of Hours.
Speaking of magic, when Kerovan's mother was about to give birth to him, she was forced to take shelter in a ruin of the mysterious Old Ones. She was rumored to be of the Old Race herself, and Kerovan was born with hooves instead of normal, human feet. His eyes were the color of butter amber.
Kerovan and Joisan grow up separately, having never met although they are married, and then their world is torn asunder by a strange invasion from the sea (see the original Witch World cycle for more detail about these invaders and their crawling, flame-shooting machines). In the Year of the Moss Wife, when Joisan should have gone to Ulmsdale to take up her wifely duties, she instead learns how to wear mail and wield a light sword. She wears a tiny gryphon in a crystal globe under her mail--a gift from her unknown fiancé.
Meanwhile Kerovan has problems of his own. The keep at Ulmsdale is betrayed to the invaders and he must make his way across the war-torn Dales to Joisan, whose own home has been destroyed. When he finally finds her, she mistakes him for one of the mysterious Old Ones because of his physical peculiarities.
How Kerovan and Joisan gradually come to regard each other, and how they attempt to defeat the dark magic that is arrayed against them forms the main story-line of this wonderful, but incomplete fantasy.
There are two sequels to "The Crystal Gryphon" (1972): "Gryphon in Glory" (1981); and "Gryphon's Eyrie" (1984, written with A. C. Crispin). None of Norton's co-authored books are as good as the ones she wrote by herself, but this is a series that is well worth following to the end.