Once again, my friend and YA & horror film maven, Kelly, has gotten me hooked on a series.
First, here's some boring, Lit majory stuff.
Through all the books and series I've read, I've discovered the following truism: with series fiction, second novels are the weakest link. The first book introduces us to the characters whose journeys we will share, and creates the world(s) they inhabit. Second novels are weakened, because the author no longer has novelty on his or her side: we already know our main character(s), and we have a pretty good picture of their world. Frequently, by the third book, the author has grown used to his or her characters, and sufficiently trusts both them and, to a large extent, us as readers with more complex plots and character depth.
In the first Harry Potter novel, for example, we meet Harry, Ron, Hermione, et al; we first see the wondrous Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and the Forbidden Forest. When "Chamber of Secrets" came out, the book had to succeed or fail on the strength of the story alone. The thrill of entering a new world was gone. Sure, we encountered a few previously unknown quantities, like Parseltongue and Gilderoy Lockhart, but Hogwarts was Hogwarts; Hagrid was Hagrid, etc. I found "Chamber of Secrets" to be easily the weakest book in the HP Septology. First, it lacked the wide-eyed discoveries of book one, plus there wasn't really that much difference between book one Harry and book two Harry. The third book, "HP & The Prisoner of Azkaban," showed a newer, darker Harry--dead set on avenging his parents' murders--and a Hermione who punched Malfoy in his smirking chops. The subsequent novels built on that foundation, showing the Armageddonish final battle moving closer, book by book.
Same with Stieg Larsson's "Millenium Trilogy": the first book introduced Lisbeth & Blomqvist, et al, and it was like nothing I'd ever read. When the second book came out, it was fine (like "Chambers"), but it was essentially people we already knew, doing stuff. The third book, however, became my favorite, showing the depths of Blomqvist's loyalty and Lisbeth's resilient genius, despite her trust-destroying past, all woven together with expert confidence and narrative power.
I found the same pattern in "The Hunger Games" trilogy, and Edna O'Brien's excellent "Country Girls Trilogy." Book One innovative and intriguing; Book Two, fine, but nowhere near as special; Book Three, daring to realize the potential shown in the first.
I'm happy to report that "Griffin's Fire," the second in Darby Karchut's "Griffin" series, smashes my aforementioned rule to pieces, not only maintaining the quality of "Griffin Rising," but surpassing it.
In "Griffin Rising," we met Griffin Raine, teenaged Terrae Angelus, and his Mentor, Basil. We saw Griffin learn to master his powers over earth and fire, and use them in the Terrae Angeli's function as guardian angels. We watched him become smitten with the cute, smart, and generally awesome mortal, Katie, and we followed Griffin as he prepared for the big Terrae Angelus "final exam," the Proelium. If you fail the Proelium, you are stripped of all your Terrae Angelus powers; you become mortal, age as a mortal, and die as a mortal. These elements created the "Griffin" world, if you will.
As "Griffin's Fire" begins, we find Griffin angry and bitter that he actually passed the Proelium, only to have the evil bastard Nicopolus lie to The Guardians, who--indeed literally--yanked out his Angelic powers. Despite what he thinks, Griffin's revoked Terrae Angelus status really only bothers him. Sure, those who love him are disappointed at the injustice to which Griffin was subjected, but Basil still cares for him like a son, and Katie still loves him. Griffin's solipsistic disgruntlement blinds him to these positive relationships. He becomes surly, sighing petulantly and arguing with Basil (much like normal, mortal 16 year-olds do).
Two major things happen to make Griffin's life even more hellish. First, Basil is forced to take on a new Tiro (apprentice), a scheming, very talented jerk named Sergei. Sergei and Griffin snipe constantly behind Basil's back, and Sergei never hesitates to remind Griffin of his unremarkable mortality. As bad as that is, things grow even more horrible when Griffin encounters the most horrible fate imaginable: high school.
As we rocket through the story, Griffin finds himself powerless to save his relationships with Basil and Katie. He begins to find a new source of strength and hope, which he has to keep secret from everyone...or so he believes.
One of the tools author Darby Karchut uses in the Griffin series is to combine straight narrative with journal excerpts from Griffin, Basil, and Katie. These aren't long passages--usually a mere sentence or two--but they give us knowledge that the characters lack. In many ways, it puts us as readers in an analogous position to the Terrae Angeli: we both have access to information unavailable to the people it most affects. They know when and where humans are in danger; we know that if person A and person B would cast aside ego and talk to one another, that crises could be averted.
I don't want to give away too many plot points, but I found myself really pulling for Griffin and Katie's relationship to survive, for the Guardians to give Griffin back his unjustly stripped powers and Angelus status, and for that jerk Sergei to get his comeuppance. Things didn't happen at all the way I'd anticipated, but in "Griffin's Fire," Darby Karchut does right by both her characters and us readers.
As in "Griffin Rising," I didn't find much that would be objectionable for tweens and up--a couple of "pissed-off's," and some kissing. Then again, I don't have any kids, so A) I don't know which age group reads what, and B) even if they get really screwed up from reading a book I recommend, I don't have to deal with them.
"Griffin's Fire" is not only a worthy follow-up to "Griffin Rising," to me it surpasses its predecessor.
Highly recommended, even if it does break my rule.
(Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis, so there. ;-) )