Review: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright once described her Rachel Griffin books as Fringe meets Narnia in Hogwarts. I don’t see the Fringe, but the Harry Potter is easier to see. I’ve finally gotten to The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin.

The plot is ….

Rachel Griffin wants to know everything. As a freshman at Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts, she has been granted to opportunity to study both mundane and magical subjects. But even her perfect recollection of every book she has ever read does not help her when she finds a strange statue in the forest-a statue of a woman with wings. Nowhere-neither in the arcane tomes of the Wise, nor in the dictionary and encyclopedia of the non-magic-using Unwary-can she find mention of such a creature. What could it be? And why are the statue’s wings missing when she returns?

 

When someone tries to kill a fellow student, Rachel soon realizes that, in the same way her World of the Wise hides from mundane folk, there is another, more secret world hiding from everyone-which her perfect recall allows her to remember. Her need to know everything drives her to investigate. Rushing forward where others fear to tread, Rachel finds herself beset by wraiths, magical pranks, homework, a Raven said to bring the doom of worlds, love’s first blush, and at least one fire-breathing teacher. Curiosity might kill a cat, but nothing stops Rachel Griffin!

Imagine the end of Harry Potter. You remember: the school is under full assault by the forces of darkness, things are blowing up, students are fighting, and great beasts are tramping around the campus?

Now imagine if that was book ONE, and that it was even MORE epic.

Yes, I mean that. We’ve got a dragon and hordes of the possessed out to slaughter the school. There’s even an evil math tutor (NOT named Moriarty). I had expected a few lines from Maleficent, but not this must. Heh.

There is no Hogwarts, but Roanoke Academy, in New York. Roanoke wasn’t lost, just misplaced for a while. Muggles are replaced by “the unwary.” If you wondered how the non-magical world looks, this gives you a great look at that, AS WELL AS establishes an overarching storyline. And trust me, this makes Voldemort look like Billy Crystal from Monsters University. And this time, our lead is 13 year old Rachel Griffin. She’s English royalty in America, and her classmates are from all over the world.

And yes, that paragraph alone puts it had and shoulders above the next nearest competitor, which treated America as a nonexistent land.

One of Rachel’s many new acquaintances is Sigfried Smith; who is a Dickens character, with the psychology that should come with it. (Oliver Twist is less fiction and more fantasy, orphans in the system aren’t that cute.) WARNING: Siggy is an acquired taste, but he grows on you, honest. Of course, we also have the magical princess of magical Australia.

Then we’re off to the races.

It’s all too easy to compare it to Harry Potter. It’s not fair…to Harry Potter. While I enjoyed it, the world of Harry Potter was so narrow and confined, you never really got the sense of the larger world. What did it look like? What would it look like?

Also with the books of Rachel Griffin, we get the perspective of someone who lives in the world of magic, excluding the Stranger in a Strange Land that we have in almost any other fantasy world. While Rowling relied on the tried and true “Alice in Wonderland” variety of dropping an outsider into a new world, make them the primary narrator — making information dumps to explain things both the narrator and to the audience, Lamplighter has made a complete world, while penning a narration that encompasses every question one might have about how things work. We haven’t gotten to the economic system yet, but I suspect that that’s coming.

Another achievement of Jagi here is having a full cast of characters. Unlike Harry Potter, who adopts the first two people he meets as friends, to the near exclusion of all others (let’s face it, Neville Longbottom was a punching bag until he became a sword swinging badass out of nowhere), Rachel gathers friends and acquaintances all over the place. There are mean girls, certainly, but nothing fits into the nice, neat little boxes that Rowling jammed her characters into.

There is no one house of “obviously villainy” here, despite obvious hints about it. Sure, there are ominous characters. There’s a Victor von Dread, who I expect to talk in all caps about Latveria. There’s a Salome Iscariot, who I am still very wary about, and will be until the series if over.

The characters are vividly drawn, and deeper than you’d expect. And the world is going to get very, very creepy.

It has been said more than once about Narnia that they were “too good to be wasted on Children.” The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. might be one of them.

The short version is that this book is awesome, and you need to buy it and read it today. Just click here. You won’t regret it.

Declan Finn is a self-professed crazy person and author — but then, he repeats himself. He is also a Dragon Award nominated author for his “Catholic Vampire romance novels.“.  Most of his various and sundry ramblings can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does. He is also in the habit of talking about himself in the third person when writing biographies on other people’s websites.

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About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, and nominated for Best Horror at the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, to be released by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written “Codename: Winterborn,” an SF espionage thriller, and “It was Only on Stun!” and “Set to Kill,” murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.