Legacy of the Claw, by C. R. Grey – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Legacy of the Claw, by C. R. Grey. Illustrations by Jim Madsen. Map by Kayley LeFaiver.
NYC, Disney•Hyperion, October 2014, hardcover $16.99 (295 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $9.99.
Legacy of the Claw is Book 1 of the Animas series, described by reviewers as like a combination of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. In the Kingdom of Aldermere, all humans are magically bonded to an animal from birth. A human is known by the animal that he is bonded with; Animas Cat, Animas Horse, and so on. People travel with their life-bonded Animas padding, hopping, or flying with them; Longfoot the hare, Dillweed the badger, etc. “Civilized” people – farmers, townsfolk – have domestic or small forest animal companions.
Bailey Walker, 12 years old, has just graduated from his local school and been accepted by Fairmount Academy, the most prestigious institute of higher learning in Aldermere. He is enthusiastic about going there, and scared because he will be traveling alone. Bailey is an orphan, adopted as a foundling baby by the Walker farmers; and although they have been loving foster parents, they could never get Bailey to bond with an Animas. Bailey hopes that the teachers at Fairmount can help him find his Animas, but he is equally scared that not having an Animas will be grounds for expulsion, or will make him a freak and a social outcast during his adolescent years.
Bailey, like Harry Potter, travels to Fairmount on an impressive fantasy train:
“Bailey couldn’t wait to board. The two rigimotive cars were like giant red metal houses, with four rows of copper-rimmed windows looking out on the plains. Gold-painted spiral staircases inside each car reached all the way to the top. The yellow dirigible, a huge oval balloon, floated above the rigimotive.
Bailey’s father had explained how the floating dirigible would help the crew navigate the rigimotive over any broken-down track and propel the heavy cars forward. His enthusiasm for the technology of the Age of Invention was infectious. He had told Bailey all about the Royal Tinkerers – a group of professors and engineers that had invented the rigimotive before Bailey had been born. He said they would’ve gong on to create a faster, more efficient train — but like so many plans that were made before the murder of King Melore, those had died along with him. Bailey often wondered whether his father would have become a tinkerer himself if he hadn’t taken up farming, like his father before him.” (p. 5)
Bailey finds a friend, Hal Quindley, also traveling (with his Animas Bat) to enter Fairmount Academy. The two have never been away from their home town before, and their conversation helps to fill the reader in about Aldermere:
“‘Do you believe all the stories about the lost tribes of the Velyn [a little-known mountain range]?’ Bailey asked Hal. According to the stories, the Velyn were a mysterious group of men and women who’d been tough enough to live up there in the mountains, mostly because they shared the Animas bond with powerful beasts like grizzly bears, wolves, and giant mountain cats.
Hal shrugged. ‘You remember the history teacher, Mr. Elliot?’ Hal asked. ‘He always told us that the Velyn were real people – escaped criminals mostly, people running from the law. But I don’t know. My mom used to tell me that the Velyn men could turn into animals and steal children who misbehaved. Only when I didn’t eat my sprouts, though.’” (p. 15)
Legacy of the Claw establishes on page 3 that the murdered King Meliore had a baby son who disappeared and was thought dead, so the reader is led to suspect that the missing prince is connected with Bailey. He can’t be Bailey, because the murder and disappearance happened 27 years earlier and Bailey is only 12. But it is in the background all through the book.
Chapter 2 is completely different, set in The Gray City, capital of Aldermere. The Kingdom has been governed by Parliament since King Meliore’s death. But Meliore’s kidnapped daughter Viviana has recently returned, and is trying to take Aldermere back from Parliament. The trouble is that Viviana is a cruel and dictatorial woman, not the wise ruler that her father was. The Elder (Elder Finn), one of the supporters of the old king, is sure that rule by Viviana would ruin Aldermere, but her powerful claim to the throne plus her buying of support has made her hard to oppose. The Elder is about to leave the capital on a secret mission to look for help. In his absence, he is forced to leave Gwendolyn, his 13-year-old apprentice, to pretend that he is still around:
“‘I worry about you,’ Gwen couldn’t stop from blurting out, even though she knew she could say nothing to stop him from leaving the palace. ‘You need me with you.’
The Elder rested his eyes on her momentarily. ‘You’re right, child. I do need you. But I need you here. I need your eyes on Parliament while I’m gone. There’s no longer any doubt in my mind that Viviana is taking steps to overthrow them.’ He lowered his voice. ‘Her Dominae party becomes larger every day.’” (p. 23)
Legacy of the Claw tells two parallel stories; Bailey’s and Gwen’s. Bailey’s experiences at Fairmount Academy are very similar to Harry Potter’s at Hogwarts School. Instead of all the students being gung-ho for Quidditch, Fairmount’s sport is Scavage. He gathers both friends and enemies; some of his teachers are helpful while others are hindrances. Bailey’s experiences are the more Animas-specific:
“Bailey had never seen so many different kinds of animals in his life. Most of his schoolmates in the Lowlands were kin to farm or house animals. But here, the platform was packed with lizards and monkeys and large birds, as well as sheep and guinea pigs. A pelican perched on the roof of the station, looking protectively at a man with a long nose standing below on the platform, checking off a list as trunks were unloaded onto the platform.” (p. 30)
But Gwen’s more dangerous experiences force her to develop her bond with not only Grimsen, her owl, but in new directions with all owls. Viviana plans to end the Animas partnership and make all animals the slaves of the humans.
Legacy of the Claw builds up speed and suspense for a rousing conclusion that answers some questions but sets up more drama to come in Book 2. There is no indication of how many Animas books there will be, but four or five is the usual number for Young Adult fantasy series. The action runs from adolescent school events to political scheming, betrayal, and murder. Grey’s writing is brisk and witty: “‘Here we go,’ said Roger with the enthusiasm of a slug about to encounter a trail of salt.” (p. 29) The illustrations by Jim Madsen, who also did the cover, are chapter headings only.
From a fantasy animal viewpoint, Legacy of the Claw is a bit disappointing. The Animas-kin are more like loyal pets than talking animals, though when their human is in danger, they act with more devotion and intelligence than normal animals. The villains also each have a bonded animal that assists in their treachery, and they are usually “evil” animals like wolves and vultures.
Legacy of the Claw is enjoyable reading. Young Adult fantasy series like Animas are designed more for the public library market than for individual sales, so there is a good chance that you can find this for free at your local library instead of needing to buy it.
Technically, I don’t think this is YA. Amazon lists the age range as 8-12, which would put it squarely in MG (middle grade) territory, and that seems to match up with the publisher and the overall look/feel of the series. (YA is typically aimed at ages 12 and up.)