SUPERVERSIVE Review: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin.

Tuesday , 8, November 2016 10 Comments

rachel-griffinI don’t hate fantasy novels, I just generally prefer science fiction. I have my tastes, y’know? We all do. Mine usually run to things with spaceships and antimatter torpedoes and Ominous Dark Things from Beyond the Stars, but every now and then, it’s good to branch out. Get a change of pace. Get some elves in play instead of space elves. I’ll enjoy anything that’s done well enough– I enjoyed the Harry Potter films, for instance. Haven’t read the books, but the movies were enough fun that I jumped on a decently priced blu-ray set before the last two came out.

That having been said, YA fantasy isn’t usually my thing. Sure, there are exceptions. A Wrinkle in Time. Narnia. You know, the classics. And I’m willing to give most things a shot once in a while, particularly when the things are either A), free, or B), written by a friend of mine. And I suppose I might as well get the disclaimer out of the way: I was given an audiobook of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin for review purposes by the author, L Jagi. Lamplighter, who is both a friend of mine and a colleague at SuperversiveSF.

Now that we got that out of the way, on to the review.


The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin definitely fits into the Harry Potter mold. The titular Rachel Griffin is a gifted student of a magical world hidden from the view of mundane, non-magical folk. But where Hogwarts takes their students very young, the Roanoke Academy of Sorcerous Arts is a high school and college for the “Wise,” and the precocious Rachel is there a year early, 13 instead of 14.

Rachel’s early efforts and making friends go awry when she runs into the school’s requisite Mean Girls, but she soon falls in with a better crowd: Siggy, an orphan from London, known for having found a dragon in a sewer and slaying it, winning its hoard; Nastasia, the Princess of Magical Australia; and Gaius Valiant, an older student from the thaumaturgy school (A department that is a little Slytherin in reputation.). Several other students wind up in the fringes of their group, but Siggy and Nastasia are the core, with Gaius

New friends or not, something is afoot at Roanoke Academy. A mysterious man pretending to be an Agent, one of the Wise’ police force, tries to kill one of Rachel’s friends with a cursed talisman. A teacher reacts very poorly to the discovery that Rachel is the daughter of an important Agent. Rumors of a new mind-controlling geass that is so subtle the victim doesn’t know they’re under a compulsion. And, through it all, ominous sightings of a large, red-eyed crow that may or may not be the herald of the end of the world.

Plus, in the forest outside of the academy, there’s this strange statue of a woman with bird wings the likes of which no one has ever seen before…

As I said, YA fantasy isn’t usually my gig. And at first I was a little worried about The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. It is, at first, a very gentle book, and the woman reading it does so in a gentle, sing-song voice that I usually associate with bed time stories. There’s nothing wrong with gentle, sing-song, or bed time stories, but y’know. Sooner or later you get antsy for an antimatter torpedo fired into the maw of a dark god.

But despite Jagi’s gentle narrative and her very good natured young heroine, there’s enough hints of darker things in Rachel Griffin to carry the promise that a dark god somewhere will get something fired into its maw. There is the aforementioned ominous crow. Visions of students being tortured or maimed. Mind control. And the world itself is plenty interesting; while it does, as I said, draw heavy inspiration from Harry Potter, there are glimpses of other inspirations, chief among them being Narnia and Roger Zelazny’s  Amber books. Maybe most intriguing of all– at least for a seminary student who immediately hones in on any religious content– it is a world which theoretically knows of monotheism, but hasn’t seen in practices in thousands of years. The whole Christian canon is unknown, its various powers and beings a mystery to both the Wise and mundane of Rachel’s world.

There’s plenty of humor to be had, too. The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin made me laugh out loud more than once, particularly with the character Siggy and his dragon familiar, Lucky, and Nastasia’s tales of the eccentric king of Magical Australia. Siggy and Lucky have a lot of John C. Wright in them (Jagi’s husband, and, I believe, the one who played Siggy in the RPG campaign that inspired the novel) and that includes his sense of humor; Magical Australia is just depicted in such a colossally hysterical way that I am really hoping there’s an eventual spin off set in Magical Australia.

So, while I’m not a YA guy, I got a lot of amusement out of the The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. It’s highly recommended if you need a read, or if you’ve got youngsters and you’re looking for something decent for them to read.

Josh Young is  a seminary student, Castalia House author (featured in God, Robot and author of the forthcoming Do Buddhas Dream of Enlightened Sheep) and blogger at He can be reached on @BadgerSensei. If you enjoyed this, we’d love to have you visit our main site!

  • PCBushi says:

    I’ve had this on my Amazon list for a while. I like the Wrights so I’d like to buy this at some point (maybe as a gift) to support them. I guess I’ve been kind of skeptical; I really liked the Harry Potter books and it just looks really derivative. But perhaps that’s a good thing!

    • Josh says:

      So here was my dilemma: While it -does- draw heavily on Harry Potter, there definitely seems to be more to it than that. I think Zelazny may wind up being almost as big of an influence as Rowling.

      But to go into anything more would be to provide huge spoilers.

    • Nathan says:

      I spent the weekend binging the series, and, while there are nods and outright references to Hogwarts and other magical schools, like Negima’s Mahora, it felt closer to John c. Wright’s Somewither with a leavening of C. s. Lewis’ Narnia.

  • Anthony says:

    Fie, Sir! “A Wrinkle in Time” is science fiction!

    I have had this conversation before.

    • Josh says:

      I would probably say that it leans towards scifi, yeah. But I think the Murray Chronos, on the whole, is fantasy. After Wrinkle it starts heading into the fantasy territory, even though Wind is both my favorite and still probably very scifi.

      • Anthony says:

        “Wind” blew young me’s mind when Meg came to the realization love wasn’t an emotion. It was the first time I’d ever heard such a thing and it floored me.

      • Anthony says:

        From my understanding it really only goes fantasy in “Many Waters”, though I haven’t read “An Acceptable Time” yet.

        • Josh says:

          Have you read A Swiftly Tilting Planet? I’d say that’s primarily a fantasy novel, future mutant horrors aside. An Acceptable Time… as far I can remember, is definitely fantasy.

          But yeah. There is so much “wow” to be had in Wind. The scene where she learns that the Echthroi are just causing entire stars to cease to exist….

          • Anthony says:

            I did read “A Swiftly Tilting Planet”. That one definitely kind of bends genres, but I don’t remember ever getting the impression magic was being used, just alien/advanced technology.

          • Josh says:

            “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from unicorns.” 😉

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