Book Review 2010 #19: Land of the Burning Sands

Land of the Burning Sands is the second book in Rachel Neumeier’s new Griffin Mage Trilogy.

Sophomore books are hard.
You’ve written the first book, and now the freshness and newness of your stuff as a writer is gone. You have to come up with a second act, and have something new to say, and, worse improve on your previous book. If you are writing a series, especially a trilogy, and your sophomore book is the *middle* book in the trilogy, that is really putting yourself behind the eight ball. Even high class writers have trouble with middle books in trilogies.
Still, given the promise of the first book (Lord of the Changing Winds), I picked up this book with the hope that Neumeier would be able to carry the story and world forward well enough, even given the disadvantages and problems outlined above.
I need not have worried.
Land of the Burning Sands takes place, temporally, not long after the battle at the end of Lord of the Changing Winds. The focus, however, is no longer on Feiebriand, but rather on Casmantium, the antagonists of the first novel. We are introduced to Gereint, whose crime has made him a magically bound servant, and who has the opportunity to take advantage of the triumph of the Griffins in book one to work his way toward freedom. Along the way, he meets allies, a romantic interest (who is far more than just an ornament for the hero), and surprisingly, not as many Griffins as the first book…
But that last part is all right. This book is something different than the first. Rather than focusing on Kes and Kairaithin (the latter appears, but only in the climax of the book), this book focuses on Gereint, the Amnachurdan family, and Beguchren, the (now) last real cold mage left in the entire kingdom. We also see Lord Bertaud from Feiebriand, and the Arobern, but otherwise there is no overlap between the two books in terms of character scope. This second novel is a book that focuses tightly on these characters, as they react to the consequences of the battle of the first novel, and the Griffins desire to punish Casmantium by taking excessive advantage of their victory. Advantage enough to possibly destroy the kingdom entirely, or change it beyond recognition forever.
Without the problems of logistics and battles that I had in the first novel, many of the weaknesses that I found in the first novel simply are not an issue in this second book. This novel plays to Neumeier’s strengths in a stronger way than the first novel did, although I don’t think that this novel is really readable without reading the first. We get to see more and new magic, and like the first book, learn that when people in Neumeier’s fantasy world come to terms with burgeoning magical power, they can literally move mountains. And characterization, a strength of the first novel, here, helps humanize and personalize the antagonists of the first novel, and puts them front and center as real human beings with their own concerns and problems. We learn just why the relations with Griffins are so strained, providing a dose of complexity to the relationship between the earth aspected humans and the air and fire oriented griffins.
I loved it. Neumeier has reduced and eroded my concerns about the first novel, broadened and filled in her world, and made me excited to see the conclusion to this unique trilogy.
I will definitely buy and read the third novel in this series. As for you, I suspect that if you read and enjoyed the first novel, you have already picked this up for your to-read pile. If you have not, I recommend reading Lord of the Changing Winds, first, to provide better context and impact for the events in this second Griffin Mage novel.
Lord of the Changing Winds (Griffin Mage Trilogy Book 1)
Land of the Burning Sands (Griffin Mage Trilogy Book 2)