Griffin Ranger. Volume 1, Crossline Plains, by Roz Gibson – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Griffin Ranger. Volume 1, Crossline Plains, by Roz Gibson. Illustrated by Amy Fennell.
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, January 2015, trade paperback $19.95 (369 pages).
Roz Gibson is better known as an artist than a text author, but she won the Ursa Major Award for Best Short Fiction of 2013 for her novelette “The Monkeytown Raid”. Now with the first volume of her first novel, she shows that she is an excellent text author for longer works as well.
Griffin Ranger is set in a totally alien alternate universe. The land masses are the same as on our Earth, but the life forms and civilization that have evolved are dominated by birds. (The reader will have fun identifying both geographical features such as the Twin Continents, the Alpha River, the Five Lakes, and the Endless Ocean, and the cities and towns like Defiance, Flatlands City, and Foggy Bay. Griffin Ranger’s publication was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, whose donors got a large color map of this alternate Earth. It would have been very helpful to readers if this map had been included as an illustration in the book, even in reduced black-&-white.) Since birds don’t have hands, the main intelligent landbound mammals are the raccoon/lemur-like “hanz” that are their symbiotic partners, and two species of canines: the wild wolfen, and the more domestic herders that have evolved from them. This Earth’s civilization is dominated by the griffins, who are the principal inhabitants of what the reader will recognize as the Americas, Europe, and Asia. But in the last few hundred years the greenies, an aggressive bird species, have erupted from the Emerald Isles (New Zealand) to spread over the world. The griffins of the Northern Continent have allowed the greenies’ partial settlement there under strict supervision, but there are suspicions that the greenies are preparing to take over totally.
A Prologue introduces the giant thunderbirds native to the Northern Continent, and some of the greenies who have been allowed to settle there. The greenies are obviously up to something both nefarious and deadly.
Chapter 1 introduces both the protagonist and most of the main species. This provides a colorful and necessary expository lump before the action starts. Samples:
“Harrell [White-Shoulders] was the largest male griffin for hundreds of miles. Only his ex-mate, Vaniss White-Shoulders, was bigger. He stood six feet tall, with bright-yellow eyes, a massive, orange beak and white forehead. The rest of his plumage was dark brown, except for a long white tail, white forelegs and the white wing-shoulders that gave him his clan name. The scales of his forelegs were the same yellow as his eyes, tipped with black talons, five inches long. Fully spread, his wings were twenty-five feet from tip to tip, powered by a huge chest sheathed in muscle.” (p. 17)
“Standing on two short legs, Riiat was less than four feet tall. Even that was large for a hanz. He had the rotund, barrel shape of an older male, his ruddy fur going gray with age. Dark, intelligent eyes gleamed above a pointed muzzle tipped with a big wet nose and a spray of whiskers. He wore a simple dark-green tunic with a ranger insignia on it, and a long fluffy tail ringed with white poked out from behind him.” (p. 18)
Griffins during their adolescence traditionally go on a continent-wide “wander” of exploration. Harrell, the Griffin Ranger in charge of an area north of Earthquake City, learns that his daughter Aera, who is on a joint wander with four companions, is a week overdue. They went missing right about where the incident with the thunderbirds occurred, near the central Northern Continental agricultural city of Crosstown Plains, populated about equally with griffins and greenies. Harrell is worried, but not enough to abandon his territory to search for the missing youths, until his ex-mate Vaniss, the Ranger in charge of Earthquake City and his organizational superior, assigns him to find them. To aid Harrell, Vaniss gets him two assistants: Kwaperramusc (Kwap), an exotic griffin from the islands north of the Dry Continent (Indonesia and Australia) and the Rangers’ best Investigator, and Tirrsill, an inexperienced but willing young female hanz.
Harrell, Kwap, and Tirrsill go to Crossline Plains, despite unexpected opposition. The lower-ranking greenies are cooperative, but they don’t know anything. The non-cooperation of the greenie officials is expected; what is more troubling is the unconvincing innocence or open hostility of the local griffins, especially the resident griffin ranger. (See Katie Hofgard’s cover showing the battle between Harrell and one of the enemy griffins.)
The trio learns that other griffins and their hanz have gone missing near Crossline Plains. Their investigation draws them into a series of violent attacks, attempted murders with a high body count of bystanders, and more. Someone is desperate to keep them from learning anything. What they find could destroy their whole world. Since this book is clearly marked Volume 1, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it ends with a cliffhanger. Gibson has announced that Volume 2, to be published next year, will conclude everything.
Griffin Ranger, Volume 1 is top-notch reading, whether for its well-crafted mystery, its action, or for the exotic civilization in which it is set; enhanced by six full-page illustrations by Amy Fennell. There are many scenes of the griffins’ culture:
“Harrell didn’t know what else to say, silently watching the changing landscape as the rail-runner began its long descent out of the mountains. The air grew warmer and thicker as the rail-runner entered the valley, speeding through dense orchards of citrus and nut trees, their limbs laden with flowers or unripe fruit. Greenies fluttered amid the trees, cutting branches, thinning fruit or working on irrigation lines. They may be rude, arrogant, and noisy, but no one could say greenies were not industrious.
Earthquake City seemed to go on forever, filling the valley floor, up the mountains and finally down to the coast. The sky was hazy and dotted with griffins and greenies, and in the distance, he could see the tall forms of the business and trade towers. Most of the buildings in the valley housed herders, wolfen and greenie workers, while the griffins got the prime territory up on the mountains and by the coast. The occasional fire or landslide was a small price to pay for the winds and spectacular views the high grounds provided.” (pgs. 53-54)
“Except for one area that had been developed by greenies into a major shipping port, the coastline was left fallow. It was considered too vital for the wellbeing of fish stocks and migrating birds to risk damaging. Other than griffin roosts and a few ocean-front cottages owned by well-connected hanz or greenies, there were few signs of civilization up and down the continent’s western edge.
Harrell flew north along the beach until Vaniss’ roost came into sight. A large, airy glass and steel structure, it was in little danger from the frequent fires that burned through the coastal chaparral.” (p. 61)
“‘Well, isn’t this a pile of offal!’ Harrell tore at the closest lounge with his talons. He was already on edge from being confined in the runner car, and every wasted minute gnawed at his temper. ‘We would have been better off flying!’
‘Ranger Harrell,’ Kwap glanced around, and something in his tone made Harrell fall still. ‘I think this is very bad.’
‘We’re going to be delayed –‘
‘No! Look at where we are! We’re in flatlands, not near anything at all. There’s been no recent rains, no quakes.’
Harrell cocked his head, trying to figure out what Kwap was leading to.
‘If there’s that much debris on the track, someone must have put it there. Someone wanted this runner to stop, and I don’t think it was to say hello to us.’ Kwap was growing more agitated, his plumes puffing out.
‘What –‘ Harrell began, but Tirrsill shrieked.
He turned. The view outside the car filled with swarming black shapes.” (p. 118)
If anyone doesn’t recognize the inspiration for the greenies, they are the keas of New Zealand’s mountainous areas; this world’s only carnivorous parrots. They are notorious for coming out of the mountains into New Zealand’s skiing lodges and upland towns to raid garbage cans and demolish automobiles, television antennas, and whatever else they can.