Year of the Griffin (Derkholm)

by Diana Wynne Jones

Paperback, 2001

Call number



Greenwillow Books (2001), 400 pages


It is eight years after the tours from off world have stopped. High Chancellor Querida has retired, leaving Wizard Corkoran in charge of the Wizards' University. Although Wizard Corkoran's obsession is to be the first man on the moon, and most of his time is devoted to this project, he decides he will teach the new first years himself in hopes of currying the favor of the new students' families-for surely they must all come from wealth, important families-and obtaining money for the University (which it so desperately needs). But Wizard Corkoran is dismayed to discover that one of those students-indeed, one he had such high hopes for, Wizard Derk's own daughter Elda-is a hugh golden griffin, and that none of the others has any money at all. Wizard Corkoran's money-making scheme backfires, and when Elda and her new friends start working magic on their own, the schemes go wronger still. And when, at length, Elda ropes in her brothers Kit and Blade to send Corkoran to the moon . . . well . . . life at the Wizards' University spins magically and magnificently out of control.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ed.pendragon
Year of the Griffin (not 'The' Year of the Griffin, by the way) is set in the same universe as The Dark Lord of Derkholm and their common source The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but, bar a few cross references, works equally well as a standalone. Set eight years after Dark Lord, the story is centred
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on the young griffin Elda who is in her first year of University. Yes, a student griffin. At a university for wizards. You just know that things aren't going to be straightforward. And so it proves: one cohort of student freshers find that their expectations of university are disappointed, their families or communities back home are, to say the least, unsupportive; and yet, despite all the obstacles and challenges (and there are many) they – Felim, Ruskin, Claudia, Olga, and Lukin, as well as Elda – start to grow and develop both as magic-users and as individuals.

There are lots of images of circularity and sphericity here, compounded by the fact that none of the images are perfect. Take the Year of the title: we never actually witness the end of the year as most of the action is set in the autumn term. There are lots of references to oranges, but mostly always to mention the fact that they come apart in segments. One of the students frequently becomes protected by an accidental spell taking the form of a barrel made up of books, appropriately enough for a learning institution, which only evaporates when the danger has passed. A group of students, along with Professor Corkoran (the name no doubt inspired by the unfortunate captain of HMS Pinafore), heads off in a spherical space vehicle for the moon (though they inexplicably find themselves on Mars); sadly, they haven't thought things through and the lunar module, designed to be life-sustaining, threatens to end their existence. The circular theme is reinforced by David Wyatt's splendid but initially enigmatic cover illustration for the original Gollancz paperback: it shows a golden griffin through a round window (one of her feathers is in the foreground), which we eventually realise is part of a barrel viewed from above (or below, it's ambiguous, despite the darts sticking in its side); there's also a visual example of a wizard's attempt to enclose oranges in a metal shell (don't ask why) that effectively renders them cannonballs, unfit for their original purpose. Why the recurrent fallible examples? Maybe because nothing ever turns out perfect in this story. (Except the ending, perhaps.)

Then there is the young griffin, Elda, who contrary to the sound of her name is the youngest in a family of humans and test-tube beings. Part-lion, part-eagle, part-human, Elda pitches in with a bunch of other misfit students who are all also escaping from the expectations of their families or communities. In fact, Year of the Griffin is, underneath the joyous storytelling, inventive fantasy and punning witticisms, a critique of a number of social institutions in this, our own world. Foremost of the critiques is that reserved for the corrosive effects of conformity, whether imposed by traditions, laws or sheer ignorance. Typical is the attitude of academia at the university, which suppresses creative thinking and practical magic in favour of dry rote-learning and limited outcomes. A graduate of Oxford University, with a partner who is Emeritus Professor of English at Bristol University, Jones will have been well aware of the politicking that goes on in academia the world over, the inevitable conflicts between research and teaching needs, the financial considerations that underpin every decision and policy, and the human weaknesses to which all scholarship is prey. No surprise then that the Wizard University is riddled with accidents waiting to happen. And that they do.

Bar a couple of excursions, pretty much all the action takes place within the confines of the campus. At times this can be claustrophobic, but the students are often able to escape to the world of books or seek companionship amongst like-minded magic-users. In fact, Year of the Griffin is an almost Shakespearean comedy ('comedy' in all senses of the word) which, barring the calls of Morpheus, I could hardly put down over the period of just a few days. Why Shakespearean? Well, typically for Shakespeare, young male and female protagonists frequently get hitched by the end of the action (as in 'Midsummer Night's Dream', 'Much Ado' and so on), frequently with multiple pairings on the cards. Secondly, things don't start to go right till at the end, when often a ruler steps in to call a halt to the mayhem and gives a judgement (Wizard Policant, aided by Chancellor Querida, fulfills this role). And thirdly, magic, or the pagan past, often is a crucial part of the story to emphasise that this is hyper-reality.

No apologies are needed, I believe, for such an extended (if obviously incomplete) commentary on what some might argue is just a children's fantasy novel. But Diana Wynne Jones hardly ever wrote a straightforward story in her preferred genre: her young adult fantasies nearly always work on several levels rather than just as a superficial narrative. As the mythical griffin was regarded as the guardian of gold, so Year of the Griffin conceals real treasures between its covers.
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LibraryThing member mutantpudding
Basically you and your misfit friends in college but with magic and your academic advisor is a space travel obsessed Gildoroy Lockhart. I love how the story progresses and the shifts between funny and serious and I love the griffins so. Wasn't a fan of how almost everyone got paired off by the end.
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Romance not needed.
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LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
Now that there's no money coming from the tours the University for Wizards is not getting the income it was used to and now they have to try to convince the parents of the latest crop to shell out some more, only some of these students aren't playing ball, they're at the university without their
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parents or guardians permission and now things are going to get complicated. It feels a little like the unseen university only from the students side. And now I want a story where Derkholm meets the Discworld.

It's a fun read and I like how the students worked together to find solutions. I can also see the frustration with incompetent lecturers. Enjoyable as always.
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LibraryThing member hailelib
A sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm taking place eight years later. More fun as Derk's daughter Elda (a griffin) goes to Wizard University, make's friends, and wrecks havoc. The University will never be the same - which turns out to be a good thing. Definitely a fun read.
LibraryThing member Herenya
Year of the Griffin is set eight years after Dark Lord of Derkholm, and the Wizard's University is short of money. Wizard Corkoran, the university chairman, proposes to appeal to the students' parents for donations, and he chooses to teach those he believes will be the richest himself. However, his
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six students are interesting in ways he doesn't expect, and while some are rich, all of them have someone they wish to hide their whereabouts from; letters home demanding money are the last thing they need. Bonding over poor teaching, worse food, and the prospect of a descending force (whether it be familial, senatorial or assassins) to remove them from the university, Corkoran's students team up to protect each other and take their education into their own hands.

Less confusing than Dark Lord of Derkholm (although possibly part of that is because I was already familiar with this world), Year of the Griffin a fantastic, fantastical, and humorous story about friends, teamwork and challenging the status quo. On a lesser level, it's about incompetent bureaucracy, the dangers of dwelling too much on impossible dreams (and how teamwork can make said dreams possible), the challenges and qualities demanded of rulers, and family.
Most of Derk's family (from Dark Lord) make an appearance - most notably his youngest Griffin daughter, Elda, is one of Corkoran's students. She's a delightful, blithe character: “[Corkoran's] sweet! [...] I want to pick him up and carry him about! [...] he does so remind me of my old teddy bear that Flo plays with now. But I’ll be good.' And it is fun to find out what happens to the rest of her family.

My only complaint with this is that there is one too many incidence of love-at-first-sight. Otherwise I enjoyed it very muchly. Particularly because I'm a university student and could really relate to that.
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LibraryThing member Ilirwen
Better than Dark Lord of Derkholm, but still not that good. I can't believe this book is by DWJ. Elda is quite likeable, that's about all I can say.
LibraryThing member phoebesmum
I have my own suspicions about Ms Jones’s motives in writing a book set at a wizarding college. Funny, lively and magical.
LibraryThing member fyrefly98
Summary: It's the start of a new term, and the Wizards' University is in trouble. The University doesn't even have the money to repair the roof, and its faculty aren't particularly gifted: the head of the university, Wizard Corkoran, is obsessed with being the first man to reach the moon, which
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doesn't leave him a lot of time for teaching, and the Wizard Wermacht, who teaches most of the classes, is strict, harsh, and uninterested in magical theory or any dissenting opinions. However, when Corkoran writes to the families of his first-year students asking for money, the University is about to have even bigger problems. Because of his six students, one is a griffin, one is a dwarf, one is a pirate's daughter, one is the Emperor's half-sister, one is a Prince, and one is the Emir's brother - and except for Elda, the griffin, none of their families know they're even at the University. Now the six of them will have to deal with assassins, curses, soldiers, a pack of renegade griffins, pillaging pirates... all on top of their schoolwork!

Review: Reading Year of the Griffin reinforced in my mind the reasons why I can't listen to Diana Wynne Jones's books in audio: they're packed with so much stuff that if your attention wanders, even for a little bit, you're likely to miss something, and in audio where you can't as easily flip back a few pages, I tend to get thoroughly lost. Even reading Year of the Griffin in print, I still had to put in some effort keeping all of the pieces straight.

The result of all of this packed-in stuff (by which I mean: lots of characters, lots of POVs, lots of action and relationship and plot threads and backgrounds and motivations, and then maybe some more characters thrown in for good measure) is a story that's fast-paced, funny, and thoroughly charming, but which always seemed to keep me at arm's length. I think the sheer volume of characters kept me from getting overly attached to any one of them. Even Elda, who is the nominal main character, didn't entirely win me over; she seemed not to have grown up much in the eight years since Dark Lord of Derkholm, and to me she read as way too childish to be attending university. As a result, while this book was without question very charming, and a good, fun read, I didn't find it particularly affecting, nor did I connect with it on anything more than a superficial level.

Still: It's a boarding school book! It gets some bonus points for that. And even books that aren't particularly deep are still worth their while, particularly when I'm in the mood for a good ol' lighthearted and fast-moving novel. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Year of the Griffin is technically a sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm, but the plots aren't particularly interconnected, and I think it could stand on its own just fine. Recommended for fantasy fans of all ages who are in the mood for something light and charming.
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LibraryThing member satyridae
I found this book to be extraordinarily formulaic and trite.
LibraryThing member raschneid
Okay, so I should have read Dark Lord of Derkholm first, but I started this before I realized it was a sequel.

Fun, very quirky, and rather Shakespearian in its ending. She does an good job telling serious coming-of-age stories in the context of a rather silly, yet very well thought-out fantasy
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world. A little bit all-over-the-place, but it might have felt more cohesive had I read the first novel.

I like reading about a school of magic where all of the students are really excited about magical theory!
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LibraryThing member wizardsheart
While not quite as wonderful as the first book, Dark Lord of Derkholm, it is still a worthy book by Dianna Wynne Jones.
LibraryThing member erikrebooted
I liked Dark Lord of Derkholm, and I really tried to like this book, too. But the characters all fell flat and behaved in bizarre ways. Consider a scene in which one character's (admittedly unlikeable) parent is turned into a mouse and then thrown into a bottomless pit, which is then sealed. Nobody
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bats an eye, which is odd, considering the characters actually discuss the idea of psychopaths at one point. There is actually quite a bit of such "non violent" killing in this book.
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LibraryThing member Ilirwen
Better than Dark Lord of Derkholm, but still not that good. I can't believe this book is by DWJ. Elda is quite likeable, that's about all I can say.
LibraryThing member SandyAMcPherson
Adventure featuring Griffins who feel very real . Their antics are evocative of friendships forged in school. Complex plot that continues the saga started in 'Dark Lord of Derkholm'.
LibraryThing member LisCarey
Elda, Wizard Derk's griffin daughter from Dark Lord of Derkholm, is a first-year student at Wizards' University, seven years after the events in the previous book. Unfortunately, the finances of the place have collapsed utterly due to the end of the tourist trade which was otherwise such a curse to
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their world. The University is severe danger of bankruptcy, and the wizardly education isn't all that good, either, since for decades previously it had been focused entirely on producing showmen for the tourist trade. Things go from bad to worse when the University sends letters to the families of all the first-year students begging for money. Every single one of those students was there in defiance of either their family or their government, and once the letters are received, the school is beset by assassins, renegade griffins, armies, and pirates. Elda and her fellow first-years organize in an attempt to save themselves, save the school, and somehow or other pick up a wizardly education. Great fun.
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LibraryThing member Velmeran
A fun book and a good follow up to the first book in the series.
LibraryThing member Rosemarie.Herbert
I originally reviewed this book on my blog - The Cosy Dragon. For more recent reviews by me, please hop over there.

The wizard university is suffering from severe money and staffing problems. The current head decides that his promising group of 6 students are likely to yield him money to repair the
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leaking roofs - but how wrong he is! With two students with jinxes, a griffin and a runaway dwarf things seem like they will go from bad to worse. Underneath all this, Wizard Corkoran wants to go to the moon but if he doesn't change his set ways of thinking, he won't get there - or will he?

As usual, I can't do justice to the synopsis for the book. It's easy enough to google one, and even just read the back of the book at the library. It's a lot better to just read the book and be done with it! It isn't a waste of your time to read anything by Diana Wynne Jones.

Elda is a strong female protagonist, even as a griffin she has her weaknesses. She is the youngest griffin daughter of Wizard Derk, and he doesn't approve of her going to university, particularly the way the university has become hardbound and unable to teach anything but the basics. Even the basics are wrong, and together with the new friends she is making they must change the university from first year up.

This book is slow to start out in my opinion, but it is worth persevering. As the story progresses, it evolves from a simple university setting into a mess of assassins and mice! It is the characters and their various shortfallings that make the book interesting. It is rather plot driven, and I didn't feel particularly attached to any of the characters, but finding out about each of their histories is interesting.

If you enjoyed 'Dark Lord of Derkholm', this book is a logical continuation. However, it is totally readable without having read the first book in this series. The novel is a little reminiscent of Harry Potter at first, with wizards going off to school. But really, it should be that Harry Potter is reminiscent of this! If you like school-based books, this one will draw you in.

The ending is just a little too neat, with everyone ending up happily paired! The story as a whole is good though, although not quite as good as the first book in the series in my opinion. Maybe I'm just tired of the old wizarding school idea? I would have much rather learned about how Kit and Blade (Derk's sons) learnt magic from a dragon or perhaps about the childhood of Derk's winged humans.

I would recommend this book for both children and teenagers. I wouldn't say there was anything in it unsuitable for children, although I could be wrong. It is pure enjoyable fantasy, and I don't regret having chosen this book off my shelf as my 40th book review reward.
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LibraryThing member ChrisRiesbeck
I much preferred this follow-on to Dark Lord of Derkholm. I never bought the "tour groups overrunning the world" plot of Dark Lord. It always seemed to me to be a joke for a flimsy short story that made it difficult to understand or empathize with any of the leading characters. The focus primarily
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on adult characters also made it an odd tale for the young adult market. Year of the Griffen has neither of those flaws, plenty of invention, some wry digs at universities, and a plot that initially seems episodic but eventually leads into a grand knot at the end, if a little too pat with too many happy endings.

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LibraryThing member simchaboston
Great fun for fantasy fans, though the plot may be too straightforward to those looking for Jones' usual twists. (There aren't split identities and only a passing reference to other worlds.) But I still enjoyed the campus comedy and found the students who were the focus of the book very appealing.
LibraryThing member comixminx
Re-read, great stuff; one I come back to. Nice and dense and full of great characters.


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