So I recently picked up a new book. The book was “Song of the Summer King” by Jess Owen (Kara). I had seen signs of the book floating around in various fantasy communities online and noticed two things about it immediately.
One, it was about gryphons. Two, it was self-published, and beautiful.
Now any of you who know me, know I love gryphons. I was also intrigued by Jess’ method for publishing, namely by using the online fundraising community Kickstarter.
But I wont lie, the main attraction was the gryphons.
Now, gryphons are interesting creatures. Like dragons, they have no true shape, no definite form. They are creatures of fantasy, and thus, completely at the whim and fancy of those who write (or paint) them.
My gryphons have always been very “Lackey-ish” in style, typically being very similar to those of author Mercedes Lackey. As she was my first introduction into gryphons, she had a rather large influence. However, the gryphons of my head were also heavily influenced by artist Jennifer Miller, and by the natural world around me.
While both feline and raptorial, I find that my gryphons tend to reflect more of their avian side than feline. They hiss, but so can birds. They’re not good runners, built more for flying or aerial hunting. My gryphons are also relatively large, able to carry humans while flying, and possess a human intelligence and innate talent for magic.
Despite being fantasy creatures, gryphons must be bound to some form of reality, or they quickly become too unbelievable. Being an animal behaviorist I find I tend to tie in very natural behaviors, or those which I believe a gryphon would have.
However, just because I tend to write my gryphons one way, does not mean that I don’t appreciate different tastes.
Jess’ gryphons (or gryfons) are quite believable. They have a unique culture and livelihood in her fantasy world, but one that innately makes sense to the reader. They seem to have the perfect blend of both avian and feline qualities, something that makes them unique and yet, expected.
However, the gryphons cannot be too animalistic in their actions, or the audience would have a hard time relating to the characters. This is where animal fantasy steps in, and one learns to write non-human characters in a somewhat humanistic fashion.
I had the chance to ask Jess about her gryphons and behaviors, and she responded thusly:
I knew the gryphons had to be more like us than like animals, and so they have powers of reason, a sense of honor, and I knew they had to live in families. More chances for interesting dynamic. So I chose lion pride over solitary eagle type living situations. They also give live birth, since their hindquarters are mammalian, though I think a lot of people still picture them laying eggs. I sit and visualize quite strongly in order to figure out how they would move, hunt, show affection and communicate. I hope to achieve a nice blend of human traits that we can identify with (snuggling, ear-cuffing, meaningful looks) and things that are equivalent (they shrug their wings for indifference ) while also being respectful to the real animals. I love to honor the creatures, but I hope for the books to come across more as epic fireside stories than manuals on gryfon behavior, so a lot of that kind of thing stays in the background, without complicated explanation.
Jess also creates a unique fantasy world for her gryfons to live in, and was willing to tell me a little about her thought process at the time of creating the idea for her novel.
I remembered a drawing I’d done when I was about 12 years old, of a gryphon and a wolf battling up a hill. I vaguely remembered the story behind it but I started asking myself new questions–who were these gryphons and wolves, how did they live, why were they making war? Why did they hate each other? And I realized there were a lot of books about dragons but I might be able to touch on something new. I also knew I wanted it from an all animal perspective, with no humans involved (although some of my brainstorming sessions did, at one time, have humans in the world later, with the gryfons being god-like characters of the Old World).
In the end Jess manages to create a fantastic but believable world and an incredible story from the eyes of a gryphon. Her series promises to be as captivating and beloved as stories by David Clement-Davies or Richard Adams. I would recommend her books to any and all ages.
With a background in the publishing industry, Jess had already decided with Song of the Summer King that she wanted to self-publish. Self-publishing is a great option for writers nowadays, allowing them to have a greater control over their finished product.
This was obviously a smart idea, Song of the Summer King looks more official than some traditionally published novels I’ve seen. The cover art is simply stunning, and the hard back edition is very obviously of a high quality.
In addition to self-publishing, Jess Owen also started her own publishing company, Five Elements Press, which will continue to produce her subsequent Silver Isles books.
She also chose a unique way for funding her self-publishing. Instead of doing the standard, print-on-demand route, Jess chose to use kickstarter to fund her book. Kickstarter allows for a community to back certain projects, and certainly helped the Silver Isles take flight (and gain a loyal following).
You can follow Jess and keep tabs on her writing either through facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SongoftheSummerKing
or through her website at: http://jessowen.com/