Year of the Griffin  - Diana Wynne Jones This spoof of fantasy tropes defies every genre convention and turns the familiar story of a magic school (Harry Potter, anyone?) upside down. Laughter is a gift of this tale, where every dangerous situation has its farcical silver lining.
The action takes place in a magic university, where six first year students study magic and have adventures and help each other deal with their deadly families. Most of them are deadly anyhow.
There are assassins shrunk to the size of rats, pirates turned into mice, a walking cloakrack and a trip to Mars – by accident. There are incompetent teachers and inedible food in the cafeteria. There are spells for every occasion, and of course, there are griffins: a magical mix between a lion, an eagle, a human and a cat. Charming!
I won’t talk about the plot of this novel, except that it’s so full of buffoonery you have to read it for yourself. Humor sparkles now and again, as the author follows her chosen group of students through their college escapades, all of them ridiculous but exciting.
The protagonists are a diverse bunch: one dwarf, one griffin, one green girl from the marches, and three humans. Their friendship blooms despite their diversity, as all of them are united in one fact: they are all at the university in secret, studying magic against the express wishes of their families or their masters. Except the griffin Elda, of course. Her family is the best, with lots of love for all its human and griffin members. Whenever the others’ families manifest as an invasion of senators or an influx of assassins or a pirate raid, Elda’s numerous relatives are there to assist.
The characters are all cartoonish, more suitable to an anime caper or a comic video game than a dramatic feature. They are sympathetic but not alive, more avatars than living souls. The fact doesn’t diminish their attraction to the reader, which was a surprise for me. Unlike a serious fantasy story, where my emotional core is usually involved, this book captivated my brain with its wit and engaged my laughing buds with its absurdities.
The only irritating detail was the author’s head-hopping. There are too many points of view in this novel, but I enjoyed reading it all the same.
Recommended to anyone who loves fantasy.

Footnote: Some time ago, I tried to read the first book of this series – [b:The Dark Lord of Derkholm|47587|The Dark Lord of Derkholm (Derkholm, #1)|Diana Wynne Jones|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1355961884s/47587.jpg|869986] – but I couldn’t finish it. This one I loved. Perhaps I should try to read the first one again, to get the background for this one.