How to Heal a Gryphon
I picked up this book from NetGalley principally because it was about a girl who wants to use magic to heal animals. As someone who likes fantasy and cares deeply about animals, it seemed a great match. It also sounded like a light, YA story, and I’ve been reading more serious fare lately. Unfortunately, the book didn’t really deliver what I expected.
First, while I imagine it’s marketed as YA or NA, it read to me more like a younger children’s book – no A at all. That’s absolutely fine; I like children’s books too. But while some make pretty good reading for adults, I found this one disappointing – the plot is on the thin side, with little risk, and I found that some fairly big chunks of it just didn’t really make sense. The Streghe del Malocchio, for example, are feared throughout the witch community, but didn’t live up to their reputation in practice. The actions they take don’t seem to follow the story’s own proposed logic. Cannistra makes an effort to give the Streghe some depth as a misunderstood group, but then seems to drop that without ever really committing to the idea. Maybe that’s for a sequel. But I didn’t find myself interested enough to follow Giada along any further.
In part, that’s because, for me, the book didn’t deliver on its central premise of a girl who loves animals. She talks about it a lot, and she has a few animal companions, but the principal one feels forced on her, and there’s not a lot of rapport. More to the point, Giada herself doesn’t show much sign of liking animals. She gets quickly tired or frustrated with them, yells at them, etc. They feel more like a convenient plot device than something she really cares about. When mermaids give her a (presumably living) oyster, for example, she feels no compunction about accepting it, carrying it around out of water, and then summarily cracking it open to take a pearl. The oyster, which presumably dies slowly, is of no moment at all in the story, other than as a pearl maker. That’s the most extreme example, but there are others. I never felt Giada really cared about animals in the way I expected.
The magic of the story feels equally convenient. Giada is famously from a line of healers, who can achieve great, but still limited results. But their magic seems capable of pretty much anything, and without much reason or rhyme. I don’t insist that all fantasy come with a carefully described magic system, but there have to be some limits and some logic, or magic carries no weight. As it is, Giada, an untrained witch who doesn’t even seem to pay much attention, can do all kind of things without much effort.
That brings us back to the initial point – that the plot is too easy and too simple, and some of the plot points feel manufactured rather than natural. The inclusion of Italian words and phrases, intended to offer some ambiance, also didn’t feel natural to me (and referring to the Madre del Malocchio as ‘Madre’ rather than ‘la Madre’ didn’t help. And why do Italian witches follow a Greek god and a Roman goddess?). Overall, this felt to me like an early draft that still needed several rounds of editing. Just as important, though, was that it didn’t deliver on its promise of an animal-loving girl so much as offering a rebellious girl who … hey, let’s make her an animal healer …needed a gimmick. Healing gryphons, in the end, is not what the story is about.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.