Book Review: Return of the Griffin (The Hybrid Helix) by JCM Berne

Return of the Griffin

Return of the Griffin by JCM Berne, The Hybrid Helix Book Two: a man in fighting stance wearing a yellow jump suit with purple bands in it, standing in front of a blue shark, so gigantic its eyes are as big as its head, with its mouth half-open, as if to swallow him backwards; splashes adorn the bottom of the picture; the title and author name font is simple and bold, with the title written in two slightly curved line across the top in white, and the author name in yellow on the bottom right.Series: The Hybrid Helix, Turn Two

Author: JCM Berne

Genre: Space Fantasy

Book Description:

Humanity faces extinction. Ten-kiloton monsters are rising from the depths of the Pacific, levelling entire cities in frenzies of destruction. Earth’s heroes have been decimated. The survivors put their hope in one last, desperate plan: find Hyperion, Earth’s most powerful hero, and ask him to return from exile to save them.

What they don’t know is that Hyperion is dead.

The Griffin spent ten years fighting wars across the sector as a weapon of mass destruction for the il’Drach Empire. His victories made his name a curse on a dozen worlds and a nightmare on scores more. He retired to the peaceful station Wistful and discovered that leaving his name behind didn’t clear his sins, his debts, or his conscience.

Earth’s peril may give him a chance for redemption, if he can only find a way to stop the monsters without turning into one. Without becoming The Griffin again.

Review: Fast-paced, Engaging, Unforgettable

Book Review:

Where to start with this review? There are so many things I can say, some of them spoilers, and none of them in any particular order. Firstly: I did read Wistful Ascending first, but then I went and read Blood Reunion before I decided that I like Rohan enough to read a book set on earth. And the character development in Return of the Griffin does answer the questions about how Rohan’s abilities have changed in Blood Reunion that I expected it to.

However, for whatever reason, I’ve decided to write my reviews in the order the books come in the series.

Here’s where I’ll start: I almost didn’t recognize Rohan at the beginning of Return of the Griffin. I don’t mean in the torturous – literally – prologue and, yes, it’s worse than the prologue for Wistful Ascending, by a long shot. If you’re as sensitive as I am, it might interfere with your ability to enjoy the book, so maybe don’t start with the prologue if you’re sensitive. It’s not really detailed, so you can probably read it where it fits in the narrative okay. Hmm, what was I saying, it might be better not to know that stuff happens to Rohan at all, but I’m not going to do you any services by not telling you since you’ll discover it in the prologue anyways.

Okay, so Rohan’s frame of mind in Return of the Griffin is a far cry from his desire to just have a peaceful life where he does nothing more exciting in a day that tow an overloaded cargo ship in one of Wistful’s space docks, or maybe have a romantic outing, that we get in Wistful Ascending. Instead, when Rohan receives word that Earth is looking for Hyperion to save them, and only he is alive (and around, at any rate, of all Earth’s Hybrids), he’s almost gleeful at the idea of going back to Earth, proving that he’s a changed person and what’s even more important that they need him and he can save them – and then save them – and being wanted, accepted, and lauded. I thought he wanted to flee that whole part of his life and just tow ships, drink with a few friends, and maybe recover from his last dating situation enough to look for another girlfriend. Or maybe just watch over Tamara from afar and continue to teach Rinth “how to fly” as Rinth would put it.

Well, so between that and my typical emotion response to torture like Rohan undergoes in this book meant it took me a little longer to get into it, and really like Rohan, since I don’t particularly like Rohan when he’s in the mood he is at the beginning of the book. Oh yes, and that just sets the stage for me to really not like his Mom. She acts pretty reasonable for most of the book, but forbidding the Vanguard teams from rescuing him, her own son, when he’s been kidnapped and is being tortured and drugged? I am not very good at overlooking that, for any reason at all. Now, it’s possible, totally reasonable even, that something else is preventing them from rescuing Rohan for a while – like that they don’t know where he is – and Dr. Kraken is lying in an attempt to demoralize Rohan. That is absolutely something a torturer might try.

And, of course, Rohan is Rohan. From the prologue:

“Actually, aggravating you is its own reward. It’s about the journey, not the destination, for me.”

Oh, and I should say something else: the Fire Speech is the coolest take on the ‘true language’ trope that I have ever seen: everyone can understand it, and those who speak it can understand every language, but to know it … it seems to know it may never end. You can know it well enough to speak it, but even those words can be known better and better, more fully capturing everything, the entire essence, of what is named by them. I just … I really liked the Fire Speech.

Also, it’s really interesting to watch how, as Rohan gets some control over his Power and the Anger that comes with it, there are moments when he really needs it, and has a hard time finding it. There are so many ways in which it is such a Curse.

Now I do not know how to continue the rest of this review without what might be considered to be mild spoilers. However, since those are, as often as not, the meat of a book, what makes it interesting, what makes me interesting, I think I’m just going to plow forward. Also, this is going to be interesting. Philosophical and interesting. So please don’t get worried about a few little spoilers, and keep on reading …

I have so many things to say about this book, I still don’t know where to start, and I can’t say all of them, but here’s one thread.

Rohan has become a very – not forgiving, but a very kind person? At least, one who doesn’t hold grudges. He’ll fight when he has to, but he doesn’t want anyone hurt, no matter what their past is with him, really. And, as he’s said, he’s okay with pretty much anyone who isn’t actively plotting to hurt him (or something he cares about).

But he’s done some things in his past that he really feels guilty about. He’s been dealt a hand in life with a lot of Power, and that really can be a curse. It means he can do good most people can’t, but it also means that his flaws, and the weaknesses that come with his Power, mean he can do a lot of evil without wanting to be an evil person. Good skies, this is so hard to talk about. One of the things I absolutely like best about Rohan is that he doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t think he’s good enough, or has done better than almost anyone with the cards he was dealt in life, or that whatever reasons he used to justify some of the things he did mean it was okay. He doesn’t think he’s a hero for trying to be a decent person, at least he doesn’t think this most of the time. Now, this doesn’t always mean that he fails to understand that there are challenges he has to deal with that most people don’t, as evidenced in a response he makes when someone asks him, “Your anger problems can’t possibly be because you’re a Hybrid, because Hyperion was a Hybrid, and he never had them.” And he responds something to the effect of, “Yes, I have anger problems, and I’m not saying it’s not a problem or that nothing can be done about it, but it’s not like you think it is. You never saw Hyperion lose it because you never saw Hyperion pushed to his limits. There was nothing on earth that could challenge him, but there were when he was fighting for the il’Drach, and, believe me, he could lose it and the devastation was far worse than when I lose it.” That’s not really how he says it, but that’s the gist of it.

So, what I’m saying, is one of the things that really good about Rohan is he doesn’t trying to be decent makes him a hero, or means the bad things he’s done don’t matter.

At the same time, he doesn’t really apply his own standard of what it means to be a decent person to … himself. In the sense that he’s really not vengeful, right? But he still seems to be infected with the notion of vengeance and punishment that lies behind or within the notion of Hell present in a lot of Christianity (no, there’s no mention of Christianity in the book, at least that I noticed, I’m just familiar with it, and that’s what I thought at once). For example, some people who claim to serve “Lady Justice” want him to stand trial and be punished for a guy who he beat up and paralyzed, so that he later committed suicide, who was a serial bank robber, back before he left earth. All the details aren’t important, but Rohan did let his anger take over and do far, far more harm past the point where it was necessary to stop the man. And Rohan comes to believe that he needs to stay trial, and if he goes to prison, he’ll go to prison and pay his debt to society.

But then I noticed something else. When Rohan is in jail, awaiting trial, he’s kidnapped by Dr. Kraken’s servants.

And here’s something that happens in that tortured captivity:

“I’m sorry.”

Garren recoiled. “What?”

“For what I did on Tolone’a. I’m sorry.”

“You told me you did what you had to do. Isn’t that right? Or was that a lie?”

“Well . . . I did the only thing I could think of doing. If the war had continued, the planet would have been sterilized. But that doesn’t mean there was no other way. It just means I couldn’t find it. So instead, I did a terrible, terrible thing. And I’m sorry.”

“Why are you telling me this? Saying this?”

“Who else should I tell? Dr. Kraken? I don’t think he cares.”

“No, I meant . . . I meant, why are you saying that you are sorry? Do you want forgiveness?”

Rohan sighed and shook his head. “Nah. It’s this thing I’m trying out. I can’t make up for what I did, and I don’t deserve forgiveness. Or need it. I’m not sure I even want it. But I want to make amends as much as I can. Because that’s all I can do. And right here, chained down, saying sorry is all I have.”

“I see.”

“I remember! They awakened Powers, didn’t they? The religious caste. Sorry, I’m still pretty drugged.”

“Yes. Dr. Kraken has given me the abilities of our warrior caste. A thing I thought impossible.”

“That’s . . . that’s great. I guess not for me, though, am I right? Am I right?” Rohan laughed, and his laugh sounded silly, so he laughed louder, which sounded even sillier, and soon he was coughing and fighting for breath.

“Your apology doesn’t change anything, you know.”

“Ha! That’s . . . that’s exactly where you are precisely, most definitely wrong.”


“It changes me. I suppose you don’t care, so maybe you were right. Yeah, you were right, it doesn’t change anything. Just me.”

Honestly, reading all this, and that – there are times I would want to send Rohan some of George MacDonald’s sermons about what real justice and forgiveness mean, if Rohan actually existed, and times I think MacDonald’s morality, his approach, captures so much of the sense of that. Never mind, it’s just George MacDonald’s ideas were a very good articulation of something I was coming to understand well enough to articulate myself, and this is personal history, not a good review. But, skies, I want to have a long discussion about justice and forgiveness and decency.

“But I want to make amends as much as I can. Because that’s all I can do. And right here, chained down, saying sorry is all I have.”

And is sitting in a prison cell, making those amends? Skies, good skies, if you read Wistful Ascending, you know Rohan ended up with a little baby ship called Void’s Shadow. And some other friends. If you went to prison for years, Rohan, don’t you think Void’s Shadow would miss you? What about Ursula? Or Rinth? I bet Rinth and Tamara would worry about you, even if Tamara is trying to make things work with her old husband now, after finding out the truth about went on there. What good would you possibly be doing sitting in a cell, when you could be doing good out there? I understand. There aren’t excuses. None of the good you’ve done, or will do, absolves what you’ve done wrong or means it didn’t matter. But how does sitting in prison help at all? What debt does it pay? – And, honestly, that was my first thought when Rohan was thinking about going to prison: Void’s Shadow! Rohan, sometimes you can be a terrible friend ….

“It just means I couldn’t find it. So instead, I did a terrible, terrible thing. And I’m sorry.”

A line I could print on something. Well, maybe not, but this is one of those things … so many fantasy books and such have the main character doing terrible things to prevent things he thinks are even more terrible because he can’t find another way. And here we have Rohan acknowledging that what he did was terrible, saying “I couldn’t find a better way,” isn’t an excuse, apologizing. This is unique, and something I can’t say how much I loved it.

On a completely different note: Hyperion raises a lot of questions. He’s a Hybrid of such immense power he was a superhero never pushed anywhere near his limits. It was probable he’d always been in situations where he had the power to do what he thought was right, and was essentially never forced to compromise or placed in situations where he had no control. Then he forges a treaty with the il’Drach in which he essentially sells himself (and all the other earth Hybrids – and it is suggested without consulting them first) to the il’Drach military in exchange for the il’Drach leaving Earth alone. Then, he’s in the military, no longer choosing his own actions, driven by his own morality, and pushed to the absolute limits of his Power, until he succumbs to the il’Drach rage. That must have been … tough. Really, really tough. He must have bargained himself into something too far outside his personal experience for him to really understand what he was doing, and then been stuck, unable to look for a way out, bound by the fact that he had to uphold his side of the treaty if he wanted the il’Drach to honor theirs, even if he hated what he was doing, what he was becoming …. I’m not a person who readily understands suicide, but this seems to me like a combination inclined to make someone suicidal. And I had another thought as well: Hyperion is powerful and has appeared to have it all together in certain ways, and it appears that many on Earth honor and exalt him, almost worship him, ignoring flaws in him that they are able to see in others.

I guess, I’m just saying, I’m obsessed with this book … series. It’s interesting. It has ideas in it. It raises questions. It makes me feel things. I really, really like the main character, Rohan like I’ve never liked a character before. I’m not sure how much I liked most of the other … humans, or well, the pure-humans though. Some of them, but not most of them. But not in the way where I didn’t like the book for them, or thought they weren’t well-written characters, just in the way I don’t really like them as people all that much. I really like Rohan’s baby ship, though. And some of the non-humans.

Review for Book One (Wistful Ascending)

JCM Berne’s Website

One thought on “Book Review: Return of the Griffin (The Hybrid Helix) by JCM Berne

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