Most helpful positive review
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Powerfully told, blurs the line between fantasy and reality
on August 6, 2010
The Gnoll Credo is a decidedly thought-provoking read. Aidan O'Rourke is an ethnologist who sets out to study gnolls (hyena-people). Gryka is a gnoll who has learned to read and write so that her pack can trade with humans. She agrees to help Aidan, and her response to his first question, "Do gnolls have a written religion or philosophy of life?" is the blunt, powerful Credo that opens the book. As Aidan works to master Gnollish and hammer out a meaningful translation of the Credo, his respect for their primal culture deepens. His objectivity wavers as he struggles with a growing friendship with Gryka, which is complicated by their differing species. What begins as scholarly research becomes Gryka's life story, told in crisp, episodic chapters.
Several things set this book apart. There is the wonderfully compelling portrayal of Gryka, who accepts and embraces the stark reality of her savage, joyous life. Utterly lacking in self-pity and confident of her role in the gnolls' fiercely matriarchal culture, she shares with Aidan the customs and evolutionary strategies the gnolls have adopted to survive in a hostile world...and he is astounded. Gryka is competent, blunt, hearty, and thoroughly dangerous, altogether a beautifully drawn character.
Presenting Aidan's research on hyenas and gnolls as an academic paper is a brilliant literary device that contributes to the blurring of fantasy and reality. It makes the "willing suspension of disbelief" easy for the reader. I enjoyed this seamless blend of fantastic and real world touchpoints. The characters are not just plot devices - they are genuine individuals, and their actions spring from their very natures.
The Epilogue takes the reader from a medieval past into the present, recasting the story as an affirmation of the origin, nature, and future of humans. It takes a stand and will not be welcomed by every reader, but it is consistent with the central focus of the book. It is somewhat startling to realize that our fundamental nature and biology evolved long before the advent of agriculture in the celebrated Fertile Crescent of 10,000 years ago.
A note of caution: the book begins charmingly and has moving, tender, and funny moments, but the strategies of survival and the ritual nature of death amongst the gnolls are realistically portrayed.
Recommended for: Adults and mature high school students who enjoy a short, intense read that pushes boundaries and generates discussion. Also, a great read for women because of the vital, charismatic Gryka.
Not recommended for: Youth (some violence and sex talk), or those expecting a typical fantasy genre book about gnolls.