February 28, 2013 by Heidi
Title: Land of the Burning Sands [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Rachel Neumeier [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Book 2 in The Griffin Mage trilogy.
Published: June 1st, 2010 by Orbit
Format: Paperback; 441 pages
Source: Finished copy via the author and The Book Smugglers
Spoilers!: Technically, you could read the books in this series as stand alone novels, though I wouldn’t recommend it. This review will contain very minor spoilers for book 1–Lord of the Changing Winds.
Gereint Enseichen of Casmantium knows little and cares less about the recent war in which his king tried to use griffins and fire to wrest territory from the neighboring country of Feierabiand…but he knows that his kingdom’s unexpected defeat offers him a chance to escape from his own servitude.
But now that the griffins find themselves in a position of strength, they are not inclined to forgive and the entire kingdom finds itself in deadly peril. Willing or not, Gereint will find himself caught up in a desperate struggle between the griffins and the last remaining Casmantian mage. Even the strongest gifts of making and building may not prove sufficient when the fiery wind of the griffins begins to bury the life of Casmantium beneath the burning sands . . .
I love when authors challenge their readers to think with open minds and come at an issue from all angles, and that is precisely what Rachel Neumeier accomplishes with her second installment of The Griffin Mage trilogy. Land of the Burning Sands is set in Casmantium, the country that was in fact the enemy to Feierabiand in our first encounter with the griffins. Instinctively we want to dislike this country and all in it, but here’s the rub–Neuemeier allows us to disdain Casmantium while letting us fall in love with its people, until the lines are so thoroughly blurred that we no longer see the barriers between them.
We experience this effect through the eyes of Gerient, a man who has been bound as a slave for a crime he committed in his youth–a crime of passion for which he was perhaps punished too severely, and has since endured years of torture and servitude at the price of his belief in kindness. It is easy to root for Gerient, a man of great intelligence and talent as a maker, and to feel emboldened when he encounters the Amnachudran family who understand generosity as none of Gerient’s previous masters would. Gerient finds himself in the willing service of Tehre, the daughter of the Amnachudran household, fascinated by her endlessly blunt and distracted mind. He understands creating, but Tehre’s fascination is in opposition to making–it is breaking.
In Lord of the Changing Winds, we learned that the people of Feierabiand had a gift for calling–a certain affinity for a particular type of animal. The people of Casmantium, however, have an affinity for making. Strong makers like Gerient and Tehre are able to use their gift to craft any number of excellent items (from bridges to horse shoe nails), or strengthen them with their will. Neither country’s gift is precisely magecraft, though that exists as well. The magic of Neumeier’s world is one of give and take. If you were to focus your efforts on becoming an antithesis to the griffins and fire, you would be giving up the ability to control other aspects of earth magic.
Neumeier made decisions in Land of the Burning Sands which had me questioning, but I was unable to focus on these questions for too long due to my enjoyment of the story overall. I was surprised, for example, when our narrative split in two as late as 175 pages into the book, but soon realized the necessity of this. I was even more surprised that book two of The Griffin Mage series showed little more than flash images of the creatures at all until the last 100 pages of the book. In fact, for at least three quarters of the book’s duration, we as readers have no idea what the true conflict is, but are so caught up in the journey of the build up that we only notice this if we step back to think.
This tactic may seem odd, but to me it is the very strength of Land of the Burning Sands. By rooting us so thoroughly in a Casmantium perspective we are able to see the griffins not as we saw them in Lord of the Changing Winds, but as these people have seen them for centuries. We see them as fiercely terrifying and beautiful creatures whose vindications will push them to destroy countless human lives. We finally see that what they have done to our beloved Kes is truly terrible–that they have destroyed her in order to strengthen their defenses. When we finally understand what the conflict of Land of the Burning Sands truly entails, our hearts are torn in two directions, knowing we will lose either way.
If Lord of the Changing Winds worked to help us understand these creatures of fire that are so far from humans, Land of the Burning Sands works to flip the coin and help us to understand humanity, regardless of political oppositions. I love that Neumeier forced me to question my loyalties in regard to these characters, and left me so uncertain as to where I should place my hopes. Land of the Burning Sands shows us the future for those characters we invested in in book one, while at the same time building an entirely new story of communication, loyalty, and freedom.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: Of course! I plan to read all the Neumeier–at the moment I’m only halfway through her catalog. Plus, I want poor Bertaud to get the girl already, so it’ll be on to book 3 soon enough.
Recommended for: I’ve learned that Neuemeier is the perfect author to turn to if you’re looking for well-balanced political intrigue, fascinating magic structures, and extremely subtle romance. This series in particular falls into my love of desert fantasy with Vessel, The Assassin’s Curse, and Alif the Unseen.