I’ve been on a fantasy kick lately. But too much ‘peopling’ has me craving stories that take the standard genre themes and flip them around in exciting and unexpected ways. So, it was good the second book in V. M. Escalda’s Farman Prophecy, Gift of Griffins arrived at my door.
V.M. Escalda drops readers back into a world rife with magic (at war with itself) between two empires in the midst of violent upheaval. She applies a recognizable magic (and semi-feudal) system in refreshing ways laying the groundwork for a fantastical story that’s a shot of new energy into an unexpected second series installment.
The first book in this series, Halls of Law introduced readers to Kerida (Ker) Nast just as the Talent (inherent magical abilities) she’s desperate to hide gets discovered and results in all her plans to follow the family tradition of a life-long military falling apart.
Because, in Ker’s world, those with psychic abilities are forcibly stripped of their all familial and personal ties to the outside world and turned over to the Halls for training and a new (separated) life.
In the Farman Polity, Talents work to uphold the Law and ensure the empire remains stable by “reading” people (for truthfulness) and objects for their history and details about anyone who’s made direct contact with it.
Just as Ker begins to reconcile herself to her new life and future using her ability as an agent of judge of the Law, the Polity is invaded by Halia by foul means. These invaders don’t aren’t interested in just staging a successful coup, they’re intent on completely wiping Talents out, ending the Halls of Law, and undoing what they considered the inappropriate ‘rule of women.’
When Ker’s new home is overrun by marauding Halian soldiers she barely escapes with her life. As one of the few (and strongest) surviving Talents, Ker finds herself seeking sanctuary with unlikely allies only to be confronted by a prophecy many expect her to see fulfilled.
Gift of Griffin picks up right where Halls left off. Ker and her allies are hopeful that the damaged caused by the Halian mages can be further mitigated by Ker’s increasing abilities.
Escalada centers her very reluctant heroine’s journey as less a coming-of-age story and more on the conflict and hard decisions that come as part-and-parcel with trying to save her people (and their way of life) without rebuilding a world that subjects her soul-stealing limitations.
One great aspect of Escalada’s style is the use of propaganda and insidious rumor to challenge an entire societal structure. Each culture’s edited histories-about the source and nature of magic-make for entrenched animus between should-be-allies. So, Ker finds herself not only navigating the very misogynistic beliefs driving the invading mages but the intolerant and prejudices of other Talents and the outlawed magic users known as Feelers within her own nation. And the strife may just cost them a much-needed relationship.
Ker must convince former enemies to band together behind one leader, find a solution to the pressing problem of the mages, known as Shekayrin, who are waging with their own agenda, by invading the mind of people and turning them against their own or taking lives altogether, and leave room to protect her feelings for a solider forbidden by the old rules of the Polity.
Gift of Griffins is less about Ker’s role in the prophecy more about how fulfilling mystical foretellings is often just the beginning of a hero’s journey.
Escalada (again) puts the ever-controversial theme of women in power and a woman being a power front and center as she weaves together a tale of political drama, changing social hierarchies, and Ker’s personal struggle to reconcile her desires with the direction of the empire in a fast-paced read that takes some serious digs at the patriarchy. Gift of Griffins is a second installment that wastes little time setting its characters into the think of things.
By the end of Gift of Griffins, betrayal leads to harrowing sacrifices, dangerous confrontations, and uncovers a new way forward for the Gifted and Ungifted alike. Yet, while things may be looking up for her allies, whether or not the change Ker’s helped usher in will cost her (once again) a chance for personal happiness and autonomy remains to be seen.
Escalada’s decision not to drag prophecy fulfillment out too long opens the door for this fantasy series to take readers in entirely different direction and show Ker and the others navigating new adventures in this changing world. It’ll be intriguing to see what comes next.
Overall Appeal: B+
Plot Progression: B+
Character Development: A+
FTC Disclosure: I received review copies of these books (for free) in exchange for a review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or impact the content of my review because I can’t be bought and no one tells me what to do except my mama.
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