I’ve been working my way through my TBR lately (which I *cannot* seem to get below 80 books! I read and read and read, and then you guys post about super interesting books, and it just fills right back up again! It’s the best problem to have, I think), and Raising the Griffin by Melissa Wyatt (Wendy Lamb Books, 2004) is another one that’s been sitting on the list since I first began compiling a TBR, probably around 2004 or 2005 (yikes!). Thank goodness for interlibrary loan!
Alex Varenhoff has always known his family’s story: royalty from the country of Rovenia, his grandfather should have been king, but the country was taken over by the Soviet Union, and his family has lived in exile in England ever since. Alex, born Alexei, hasn’t ever even stepped foot in Rovenia. Tucked away at boarding school, he doesn’t hear the news until his parents send for him and he finds out: post-revolution Rovenia has voted to reinstate the monarchy, and Alex’s father has made the decision to return to his ancestral homeland to rule.
Alex is less than thrilled about this; uprooting his life, leaving his school and friends and horse, and stepping into the spotlight in order to become a prince and future king, wasn’t exactly in his life plans. His handler, a cranky man named Count deBatz, is all over him, all the time, in order to turn him into the kind of young man Rovenia needs at the helm, but Alex is having none of it. Despite forging a friendship with another family employee’s daughter, Sophy, Alex can barely stand to be in the castle or in his role as prince; the first chance he gets, he sneaks off with a fellow royal with a bad-girl rep. After finally understanding the error of his ways, tragedy strikes Alex in a big way, and life may never be the same again, for him, his parents, and maybe even Rovenia.
Long before Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series, there was A Royal Pain by Ellen Conford, and it was with that book that I developed a love for the ‘Wait, you mean I’m royalty???’ trope- that’s how Raising the Griffin ended up on my TBR list in the first place. Overall, this book was just okay for me, not bad, but not spectacular, either. Alex is a bit on the spoiled side and occasionally acts like a jerk, but his entire life has just been upended (in a way that his parents didn’t handle well at all), so I was able to cut him some slack for his attitude. His parents, who sent him away to boarding school in order to get him out of the way so that they could deal with and make decisions about Rovenia’s asking them to return, aren’t even present when he’s told that his whole life will be changing. They have endless tasks to complete in order to assume the Rovenian throne, and while they tackle their massive to-do list, Alex is tossed aside and expected to adjust solely with the help of his assigned handlers. It’s ultimately Alex who pays the price for their decision to return to Rovenia, and I wish there would have been more remorse shown on his parents’ part for how their choices affected their son. Even after the tragedy, they left him behind, and while I get that they had responsibilities, I was often left feeling cold about them and wondering how realistic their actions really were.
(Something else that stuck out to me: Alex mentions that his family spoke Rovenian at home, but also mentioned that his mother was Danish. He never mentioned where/when/how his mother learned Rovenian- a language from a small country- well enough in order to be able to converse fluidly with her husband and feel comfortable enough with in order to use this language with her child. Why would she speak Rovenian with him and not Danish? As someone who understands her husband’s first language but who knows that, not being a native speaker, I very much run the risk of teaching my daughter all my grammatical errors and unnatural ways of using the language and thus usually speak with her in English, I want to know!!! I do switch to French if I want some conversational privacy; it’s nice being able to privately ask your child if they need to use the bathroom, or if they’re warm enough/had enough to eat/ready to leave, etc, right out in the open, but it’s not something I use with her on a daily basis.)
Some of this felt a little rushed, especially the last quarter, post-tragedy. I would’ve liked to have seen more of how Alex heals and how he mends bridges with Sophy and corrects his former bad attitude; unfortunately, the way it’s set up left me wanting a little more, emotionally. However, it’s not a bad story; it makes a fun addition to the ‘suddenly royal’ trope booklist, and it’s the first I’ve read that’s narrated by a male character, so that’s definitely a plus. The way it ends, the author could have returned with a sequel, but since this was published in 2004, that’s unlikely at this point.
(Content warning for gun violence, discussion of war and revolution and all that entails, and some mild allusions to sexual conduct.)
Do you enjoy stories where characters learn, to their shock, that they’re actually royalty? Got any suggestions?