Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier

Kes has lived her whole life on her older sister’s farm in the small riverside town of Minas Ford. Timid and shy, she has a hard time fitting in with the other village people, and prefers to be alone most of the time. She has basically accepted a quiet life in her village as the local herb woman, until the day the griffins come flying over Minas Ford, bringing hot desert winds and uncertainty and fear to the people of Minas Ford.

Then a strange man shows up, a man who is not a man, and takes Kes away to the mountains and the desert of the griffins. There she learns that she has a singular power: she can heal the griffins, who are unable to heal themselves from fatal wounds inflicted by human mages. She delights in her newfound power, in new companions, and in a place where she belongs more than she ever did with humans. However, not all is well. King Safiad is determined to drive the griffins and the desert they have created from his kingdom. First he sends an envoy in the form of his trusted advisor and childhood friend Bertaud–when that fails, he sends an armed force against the griffins. As humans and griffins come to blows, Kes and Bertaud must both make difficult choices about where they stand in this war.

I finished this Lord of the Changing Winds in a few hours, that’s how much I enjoyed it. I was actually very surprised and impressed by the depth of Neumeier’s plotting–from reading the back summary (which was shorter and less detailed than the one I just wrote for you) I thought it would be a fairly simple, predictable story in the traditional vein of “young girl finds powers, experiences new world, fights climatic battle, has happy ending,” a la The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (another one of my favorites). However Kes ended up being only one of several important characters, each with their own individual, engrossing story. Like Bertaud, who isn’t even mentioned on the back cover summary.

The conflict became much larger than just Kes and her dilemmas, and the transition and slow growth of the story was handled very smoothly by Neumeier. It never got overwhelming, and it was always unpredictable. Neumeier took several traditional fantasy elements and put a new twist on them, and generally avoided being cliche about it. I also loved the way she described Kes’ world and surroundings–Neumeier made the desert seem beautiful and mysterious, and painted a great picture in my mind of all the scenes and emotions that were happening in the story. I really enjoyed her writing style.

Unfortunately I wasn’t the biggest fan of Kes as a protagonist or heroine. She seemed fairly static for 99% of the novel and suffered a bit from damsel-in-distress syndrome. While I understand that her personality was written to be extremely quiet and shy, it was a little too frustrating for me as a reader to engage with. She didn’t grow or do very much as a character and I became more interested in other individuals within the story. She came into her own near the end but it was a long time coming.

It looks (after a bit of searching) that this is Neumeier’s first novel and I will definitely be following the rest of this author’s career, starting with the sequel, Land of the Burning Sands. I picked Changing Winds up from my local bookstore after perusing the Orbit Books website. I’m very interested in reading more of their novels, the website has a publishing schedule and list, lots of interesting titles there. I first heard of this publisher because they published Karin Lowachee’s The Gaslight Dogs, and I’ve been a fan of Lowachee for awhile.

Highly recommended, great way to escape and go on an adventure for a few hours.

Author Website (still under construction): www.rachelneumeier.com

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