Song of the Summer King, by Jess E. Owen – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten
Song of the Summer King, by Jess E. Owen. Map.
Whitefish, MT, Five Elements Press, July 2012, hardcover $30.00 ([viii +] 246 [+2] pages), paperback $12.99, Kindle $4.99.
“Shard is a gryfon in danger. He and other young males of the Silver Isles are old enough to fly, hunt, and fight–old enough to be threats to their ruler, the red gryfon king. In the midst of the dangerous initiation hunt, Shard takes the unexpected advice of a strange she-wolf who seeks him out, and hints that Shard’s past isn’t all that it seems. To learn his past, Shard must abandon the future he wants and make allies of those the gryfons call enemies. When the gryfon king declares open war on the wolves, it throws Shard’s past and uncertain future into the turmoil between. Now with battle lines drawn, Shard must decide whether to fight beside his king . . .or against him.” (blurb)
The beginning of the first volume of Owen’s The Summer King Chronicles tetralogy is reminiscent of Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. “Fresh morning air lifted clouds and gulls above the glimmering sea, and drew one young gryfon early from his den. Too early, just before sunrise when forbidden darkness still blanketed the islands.” (p. 1)
Shard, a young gryphon, has sneaked out from his cave on Sun Isle early to get some additional flying practice. It’s not for the pure glory of flying, though. Shard is a native of the Silver Isles, conquered a generation ago by the gryfon Sverin the Red King and his Aesir.
“‘The king comes,’ said the older gryfon. Halvden [the son of one of Sverin’s advisors] blinked and spun as they all perked ears toward the king’s rocks. The king glided in from his morning flight, massive wings flaring, stirring the grass as he landed on the top of his rocks.
The largest of the pride, Sverin-son-of-Per looked every bit a king. He wore gold, crusted with emerald and sparkling catseye, around his neck, and golden bands clamped to his forelegs just above the spread of black talons. Tokens from Sverin’s grandfather’s war with dragons in the farthest arctic lands across the sea. The dawn outlined his copper flanks, throwing sheen across the scarlet feathers of his shoulders and the deep crimson of his face.” (p. 7)
Sverin’s Aesir gryfons are larger than the Silver Isles’ native Vanir. The conquest resulted in the deaths of many Vanir warriors, and the mating of their Vanir gryfesses to Aesir males. Shard is the last pure-blood Vanir. The gryfons of the Silver Isles who have reached maturity are scheduled to perform in an aerial initiation hunt under Sverin’s watchful eye. Shard, as the last of the smaller Vanir, would normally never be allowed to join the Red King’s pride, but he was raised as a playmate, a wingbrother, of Kjorn, Sverin’s son. Still, the hunt is rigorous and nothing can be taken for granted, which is why Shard snuck out before dawn for some forbidden nighttime flying practice.
Shard – his full name is Rashard — does well, and is honored by Sverin. The Silver Isles consist of the largest Sun Isle, the next largest Star Isle, and four minor isles. The gryfons have traditionally all lived upon Sun Isle, and have only flown to Star Isle, inhabited by wolves and game animals, for hunting. Now the Red King decrees that the gryfons are to colonize all the other isles, Star Isle first, and that Shard is to lead the colonists consisting mostly of the younger generation; his closest peers. The wolves are to make way for the gryfons; if they object, they are to be killed.
Shard, who has never known anything but the Aesir’s rule, is proud and determined to prove himself worthy. He has some opposition from some of the Aesir who think the leadership of the colonists should have gone to one of them, and ignore him.
“Without thinking, Shard broke from the hunters and spun into a dive toward Hallr.
Hallr slowed, checked by the unexpected command. He saw Shard, snapped his beak and turned back to the fleeing wolf who crossed toward the trees.
‘Hallr! Leave it!’
But instead, Hallr called for his son. Halvden turned immediately and streaked toward the trees to fence the wolf in.
Shard screamed in eagle’s fury and closed his wings to plummet hard to the earth. He slammed into the ground between Hallr, Halvden and the wolf, and flashed his wings wide.
I said stop!’ The word bellowed as a lion’s roar.” (p. 116)
More troubling is that the wolves turn out to be as intelligent as the gryfons, and they object fiercely to being relegated to extinction on their own island. Shard, who is ordered not to talk with them, learns that many of the customs that he grew up with, thinking that they are traditional gryfon customs such as not flying after dark, are Aesir customs only. The Vanir and the wolves were friends, with the Vanir happy to leave Star Isle to the wolves. Shard comes to question the Aesir’s dominance, leading to the cliffhanger ending of Song of the Summer King (cover by Jennifer Miller) and three sequels: Skyfire, May 2014; A Shard of Sun, September 2015; and By the Silver Wind, forthcoming.
Song of the Summer King ends with another gryfon telling Shard, ‘You may have lost your place in Sverin’s pride […] But now it’s time to find your place in the the [sic.] world.’” (p. 244) It won an honorable mention in the 2013 Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards, and was the winner of the 2013 Global E-book award for Fantasy. For the reader of furry literature, it offers well-developed four-legged talking animals like gryfons, wolves, and in the later volumes dragons and wyrms, plus some talking birds, rather than the usual anthropomorphized animals.