Books featuring animals as their narrative source aren’t my favorite thing. I’ll watch movies from animal perspectives and won’t bat an eyelash, especially if they’re animated, but there’s something about books with animal heroes that has never drawn me in. So, that being said, I did not at all expect to enjoy the Summer King Chronicles as much as I did, and I enjoyed it immensely.
The first book, Song of the Summer King, launches straight into the main character Shard and pulls you into his favorite activity: flying. Right off the bat, you can tell how much thought author Jess E. Owen has put into the characters that inhabit the world of the Silver Isles, exploring their lives as gryfons (author’s spelling) and how they would interact with the world. Shard’s flight feels real, brought to vivid life by Owen’s writing. Without spoiling anything, the plot of this book is intriguing and decently paced with a few unexpected turns, though I found some of Shard’s musings a little redundant and long-winded, given that some of them come during scenes of action. Even with these drawbacks, I liked the book enough to buy the next two installments for my Kindle the same day I finished it, and I started on Skyfire the very next day.
In Skyfire, you can tell Owen is hitting her stride as an author. The prose tightens up as the plot goes deeper, and this is the book that lets the reader finally appreciate how much thought and effort went into Owen’s world building. The first book has an interesting setting, but it feels very small. It isn’t until Skyfire when Shard leaves his home in the Silver Isles to seek the lands beyond the sea that you get to see the scope of the full world and the rest of the creatures that inhabit it. Lots of characters are expanded on in this book, with Shard sharing the narrative limelight with his wingbrother Kjorn, and plenty of new and fascinating characters are introduced. The pacing gets a little bogged down as Shard gets swept up in the unfamiliar politics of the new lands he is exploring, but it is something that comes to be understood as necessary as you progress farther into the series.
Book 3, A Shard of Sun, is easily my favorite book of the series. The pacing is wonderful, new depths are explored within almost every character, there’s quite a bit of action, and there’s a wonderful, wonderful dragon. Okay, so maybe I am a little biased due to that character, but Hikaru is a delightful character, and it’s through him that we get to learn more about the history of the world and the struggles Shard is going through. The world grows even larger as Shard and Hikaru travel together, and Owen’s world building remains rich and beautiful. Shard also comes into himself much more as a character, and his emotional growth is enjoyable to follow.
The final book in the series, By the Silver Wind, is a solid concluding book. I feel that some of the character conflicts wrapped up too neatly, given the weight of the problems surrounding them, particularly Kjorn’s dispute with a rival gryfon king. There were a couple of redemptive arcs that I thought played out nicely, but having nearly all of them end so neatly felt jarring. I’m trying not to spoil anything as all four books are definitely worth the read, but I do think that A Shard of Sun is the best in the series.
SPOILER: ((I will, however, say that Shard’s relationship with Brynja never felt genuine to me. It felt more like a crush or superficial infatuation than deep love, and I think that Brynja just wasn’t given the necessary narrative space to be a compelling character, especially with other female gryfons like Thyra, Ragna, and Sigrun to live up to. Not to mention the female non-gryfon characters that inhabit the series, like Catori and Ajia. Brynja could have been interesting, but she wasn’t given enough space to develop. She was too much in the background.))
Overall, the Summer King Chronicles is a series you should definitely read if you enjoy fantasy. They are wonderful, imaginative books, and even with those few drawbacks I mentioned above, they are well worth the read.