Song of the Summer King by Jess E. Owen
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.
Review:Song of the Summer King is Jess E. Owen's debut novel, and I ripped through it in less than a week. I loved her style, the setting, and enjoyed the characters and plot. Owen brings Shard’s story to life with a style that’s rich with strong verbs and vivid descriptions. Throughout the novel I could visualize the scenes and characters—I could see the fur of the she-wolf, the ocean lit by moonlight, and the Gryfon King adorned with dragon gold. For example, here are two sentences I just found scanning over the first part of the novel:
“Birch trees gave way to a ring of skeletal rowan, gnarled and dark. In autumn, their berries blazed like forest fires all over the islands, but now they only added to Shard’s tension, for they offered shelter to enemies.”With her style, Owen transported me into another setting, another world. Not only could I feel and smell the Silver Isles, but I wanted to go there. Although the Song of the Summer King doesn’t have magic in it, it felt magical. The characters and plot have an archetypal feel. They are familiar, but not redundant. Owen individualizes them, making them into her own creations. For example, the gryfon Stigr serves as the mentor in the story, but he doesn’t meet the same fate I’ve seen dozens of other mentors meet, which was a nice switch-up. Owen also plays with a few romantic subplots and takes some relationships in unexpected directions. While I encountered areas that were black-and-white when it came to good and bad, Owen lingered in areas where good and bad grayed, giving us situations and characters that felt real. The story also contains several twists and turns, and although none of them shocked me, they were enough to keep the plot fresh (and to keep me reading).
Overall, I loved Song of the Summer King because it balances familiarity with distinction, and because Owen writes with a stunning style. For me, the story was epic like The Lion King, and the creatures were reminiscent of those in Princess Mononoke—two films I watched religiously growing up. I loved the wolves and gryfons, especially Catori, and plan on buying the second book when it’s released. I recommend Song of the Summer King to middle graders and up and to anyone who is looking for an enthralling animal story that will transport them into another world.
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* This review originally appeared on The Fantasy Gazette