Legends of Heraldale, by Brian McNatt – book review by Fredd Patten

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Legends of Heraldale, by Brian McNatt
Chickasha, OK, The author, January 2017, trade paperback, $13.95 (243 pages), e-book $3.95.

Legends of Heraldale is very much a stereotypical Young Adult fantasy. Its appeal will be to those who want to see a world where all the most familiar animals of mythology – gryphons (griffins), unicorns, hippogryphs, dragons, cockatrices, wyverns, sphinxs, minotaurs, salamanders, and mermaids – live, including some that I have never heard of like a rockodile and zakarians. But there are many curious aspects to it.

A Prologue tells of the last battle of the First Expansion War between the unicorns and the gryphons:

“For a moment, night turned to day, illuminating the two clashing forces. Through the woods to the canyon’s west massed the unicorns of the Avalon Empire, hooves beating the earth and snow as they galloped among the trees. From their horns streaked bolts of red magic at the many-towered fortress across the canyon, blasting chunks of stone from the high walls and tearing through the gryphon defenders.

From the fortress walls and towers the gryphons rained down flocks of arrows and crossbow bolts in return, each weapon striking true.” (p. 1)

Gryphons are usually thought of as quadrupedal. I have a hard time envisioning them shooting bows & arrows, and firing crossbows.

“Three gryphons in gold-edged leather and mail flew from the gates to meet the enemy charge. There flew a swan-gryphon, a spear as slender as his neck clenched in his talons; there flew a golden eagle-gryphon, her battle-axe as broad as many of the opposing unicorns stood tall; and at the lead flew a cardinal-gryphon, half the size of the others, her wings sheathed in feather-styled blades, a helm-like crown upon her brow.” (p. 2)

Gryphons are traditionally depicted as a combination of the front of an eagle and the rear of a lion. The concepts of a swan-gryphon and a cardinal-gryphon – later crow-gryphons and bluebird-gryphons — are intriguing; but a gryphon is supposed to look fierce and menacing, and a cardinal hardly matches that description. The idea of other birds than an eagle makes the possibility of other avian combinations irresistible; a turkey-gryphon, a vulture-gryphon; a sparrow-gryphon; a hummingbird-gryphon.

Grimhilt the cardinal-gryphon, queen of the gryphons, is mortally wounded. She is helped by her two friends to a secret chamber under the doomed fortress, where her newborn daughter is hidden:

“Trembling talons pulled away the silk blankets so that she could see the gift to the world with fresh eyes, like it was the first time all over again. The child was hardly three weeks old, her front half like a gryphon, her back half like a unicorn, a straight horn the color of polished ivory sprouting from her forehead. The child possessed her father’s shocking blue eyes, bringing Grimhilt to tears, and in time would grow up to have her mother’s vibrant red plumage. ‘A hippogryph … so beloved …’” (p. 5)

Galaxy (Gal) the hippogryph is raised in primitive Feathern Valley, part of the conquered gryphon kingdom now oppressed by the cruel unicorns. Legends of Heraldale begins when she is a 15-year-old teenager, with her friends and adoptive siblings Sascha and Siegfried, two swan-gryphon twins, and Brynjar, a golden eagle-gryphon. The unicorns keep the gryphons of Feathern Valley at the technological level of medieval serfs, while they go about in steam-driven troop transports, flying warships, and magic-powered carriages:

“Despite these dark thoughts, the sound of carriage wheels roused Galaxy’s curiosity. Ignoring Brynjar’s warning look and praying her red plumage would go unnoticed, she lifted her head enough to peer over the grass. She saw a black carriage the size of a small house draw level with them 50 feet eastward down the forest edge. No living creature drew the carriage as far as Galaxy could tell, the job done by a pair of floating crystal orbs each the size of a large pumpkin. A trio of unicorn soldiers in the white barding of the Unicorn Empire kept watch ahead and to the sides.

The carriage pulled to a stop and the doors on their side popped open. Out of the carriage hopped a palomino unicorn stallion looking on the cusp of adulthood.” (p. 13)

The unicorns are led by ruthless Lord Mordred, the personal apprentice (?) of the unicorns’ mad Empress Nova:

“The troop carrier touched down with a clank, steam hissing from vents and corner prongs losing their glow. Half a minute passed before the whole front of the carrier lowered into a ramp. Owain barely resisted backing up as six unicorn soldiers in full white barding marched down, curved steel blades two feet long mounted onto their horns.

The six soldiers divided into two lines of three to the left and right of the opening. Then He appeared, hoof-falls like thunder as he marched down the ramp. That evil feeling Owain felt grew all the stronger as this time he did step back, terrified. This stallion stood head and neck above the unicorns around him, his coat black, his long mane and tail black dotted with white, giving resemblance to the night sky. He wore no barding or caparison. Wolf-eyes shone gold with an inner light. His horn looked dull as bone.” (pgs. 33-34)

Owain is the sympathetic unicorn teenage son of the imperial governor of Feathern Valley. To give away a spoiler, Legends of Heraldale is a Romeo-&-Juliet romance, with Galaxy and Owain as the determined lovers from rival families. That’s Brynjar, Gal, and Owain on the uncredited cover.

To me, anyhow, all the mentions of technology ruin the mythological-animal atmosphere, and I don’t care if My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic does the same thing. Four-footed/hooved gryphons and unicorns using magic/telekinesis to shoot bows-&-arrows and crossbows? To operate a blacksmith’s forge? To travel in aerial warships and horseless carriages? (Try picturing the Owain on the cover riding in a magic-propelled carriage.) A raven-gryphon pirate? Gryphons of many different bird-types, and great flocks of cardinal-gryphons?

But if you don’t mind this, Legends of Heraldale is a shallow but enjoyable adventure of three anthro-animal teenagers going on an unknown journey to escape the cruel unicorn Lord Mordred and his efficient assistant, Commander Bevin. The adventure does not end as much as it comes to a stopping-place. “Galaxy and friends will return.”

– Fred Patten