This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is SCHOOLS, so I’ve selected Year of the Griffin – Book 2 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones.
This edition was produced by HarperCollins in September 2012. I really like the wonderful young griffin flying over the magical school in a scene that is full of drama and excitement. I also like the title font, which is elegant and eye-catching that gives a sense of this excellent, funny school story that deserves to be far better known than it is.
Published in January 2014 by HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks, this excellent cover leaves me a bit conflicted. I love that wonderful ‘magical’ acid green colour with those eye-catching black silhouettes and the fabulous curling fonts. BUT this is a children’s book – and I think this cover has a strong horror vibe, which is unfortunate as it’s nothing of the sort, being an entertaining school story with lots of humour. Otherwise, this one would have been my favourite.
This edition, published by Gollancz in 2001, is another strong cover. That griffin looks magnificent, with the landscaped stretched out below – but again, this cover suggests that this is epic fantasy, rather than a very funny children’s book.
Produced by Азбука in 2018, this Russian edition is my favourite. At long last – a well-designed cover that also is genre-appropriate. I love all the students gathered together in the upper part of the cover, while one of the defining scenes features below it. The font is also suitably quirky. While I’m not sure exactly what it says, I do love that tail emerging from the title font and the dear little mouse at the bottom.
This Japanese edition, published by Tokyo Sogensha in August 2003, is another strong contender, given it also features the main characters in the very grand school quadrangle. But I do like the artwork, particularly that of the characters – they have a strong sense of a Japanese influence. Which one is your favourite?
Are you an urban fantasy fan a bit fed up with the slew of vampire/were characters cramming the genre, these days? Pining for a tale with an interestingly complex protagonist who takes you right into the heart of the story? Longing for a writer who can depict a city with such vividness that you can taste the traffic fumes, smell the rubbish and touch the pigeons? Wishing that someone would take the time and trouble to construct an unusual, interesting magical world that didn’t take place in some rural outback with plodding horses and flea-ridden inns? Then this is the book for you.
When Matthew Swift finds that he has returned to life after a two-year absence, he quickly needs to acclimatise himself to the London landscape where the source of his power resides – urban magic. A new power that ebbs and flows with the rhythms of the city, makes runes from the alignments of ancient streets and hums with the rattle of trains and buses; it waxes and wanes with the patterns of the business day.
Enter a London where magicians ride the Last Train, implore favours of the Beggar King and interpret the insane wisdom of the Bag Lady. Enter a London where beings of power soar with the pigeons, scrabble with the rats and seek insight in the half-whispered madness of the blue electric angels…
Griffin grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let go until the last with her taut, poetic prose and action-packed story. Matthew Swift’s thirst for revenge against the terrible being preying on urban sorcerers leads him into dark places – and we are yanked along with him. There are one or two really bloody moments. Not to mention some scenes that score high on the ‘yuck’ factor – an attack by a litter monster being one of them. However, this book is so much more than a guts’n gore fest. Griffin’s ability to weave her action amongst the densely depicted London scenes that she clearly knows extremely well, gives the story an almost literary feel. And Swift is an amazing creation. Only half human, his instability while teetering on the edge of something terrible creates plenty of dynamic tension as he tries to pick up the pieces of his old life. And – yes – Griffin manages to conclude the story with a satisfactorily climatic ending, leaving enough interest dangling for another adventure.
If I have a quibble – and it is a minor one – I did find myself skimming some of the descriptions of the London landscape to find out what happened next. But it was only an occasional flip of the page, as mostly the scene setting held me.
For those of you interested in such things, Kate Griffin is actually Catherine Webb, who has written a number of acclaimed books starting with Mirror Dreams in 2002 for the YA market. A Madness of Angels is the first book in this outstanding series – and along with the likes of Ben Aaronovitch, she has set the standard for London-based urban fantasy – and that standard is high and just goes on getting better.