________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 18 . . . . January 15, 2010


The Gryphon Project.

Carrie Mac.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2009.
296 pp., pbk., $14.00.
ISBN 978-0-14-316814-0.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4


Phee wished things could go back to the way they were before.

Maybe it was the stress of being a champion athlete. Gryph was sponsored by Chrysalis, which came with a lot of pressure, sure, but a lot of perks too. The media attention, the high-tech gear, the fame.

The fame.

Maybe that was it? Ever since he'd won the X Games last year he'd changed. Maybe all the hype had turned him into a prick.

Phee never knew if it was going to be a Good Gryph day or a Bad Gryph day, and so it had her walking on eggshells. She missed the old Gryphon. She missed his easy laugh and his carefree approach to anything life threw at him.

And he wasn't training as hard anymore, even though he was still winning. He just didn't seem to care about it as much. He'd signed a ten-year contract with Chrysalis almost three years ago. It was meant to see him through college and into the pros, for whichever sport he ended up choosing. He was good at them all. There were a lot of years left on that contract. Phee wasn't sure if she could stand seven more years of this Gryphon.


Phoenix and her older brother Gryphon have always been close, but that has suddenly changed. Gryphon is a top athlete who gets a lot of media attention, but, until recently, he's always had time for Phee and little sister Fawn. Lately he's staying out at night, lying to his parents and apparently throwing away his number one position in competitions. He has always enjoyed risk but now seems unconcerned about flirting with death. After all, dying isn't such a big deal since he has three recons - that is, he can be brought back to life three times. Phee knows all about this because unfortunately she's already used two of her recons. Eventually the inevitable happens, and Gryph is involved in a horrific and fatal accident. Or was it suicide? Or perhaps a deliberate attempt on his life? Phee has to figure out exactly what happened to her brother in order to convince Chrysalis, the governing body, that his death was accidental and he should, therefore, be reconned.

     Carrie Mac is an award-winning author, and this novel is further proof of her writing ability. She draws readers into a futuristic world where science has evolved to the point where people can be brought back from the dead, where urban travel is by shuttle, where messages can be transmitted and read instantaneously on a lync. The world is not ours but is not so far-fetched as to be unbelievable. Current technology has us well on the way to Mac's imaginary universe. Thus, this book will certainly appeal to young adults who enjoy science fiction.

     It takes over one hundred pages for Mac to build up the suspense before Gryph's accident takes place. This rather long prologue is skilfully done as it provides an opportunity to know the characters well and to sense the tension building around Gryph and the heightening of Phee's anxiety. Gryph's circle of friends and Phee's best friend Nadia are critical later in the story so this extended introduction gives readers insight into each personality as well as the chemistry between characters. Adding to the suspense is the 'big brother' aura of the setting. Cameras and monitors are everywhere to record citizens' movements. Chrysalis Corp. is a governing body which has strict rules and equally strict penalties. Those who work for the company seem to be simply robotic mouthpieces, content to enforce the party line. Crimcor refers to the policing system of this society, and it appears to be a law unto itself.

     The novel is a deftly woven collage of science fiction, suspense and mystery, but there are other aspects of the book which are intriguing and merit its highly recommended rating. Mac has chosen names like Gryphon and Phoenix which will resonate with readers of mythology. Does the character of Gryphon have, metaphorically, the body of a lion and head and wings of an eagle? Has he the power and majesty suggested by his name? After two recons, Phoenix truly does seem to have risen from the ashes to begin life once again. And a chrysalis is understandably vague, being simply a stage which is passed through. If Chrysalis Corp is merely a stage of governance, into what will it eventually develop?

     Mac also presents readers with some difficult philosophical questions. In this society, there are definite sectors or classes. The elite are in the three-per sector, i.e. they have the possibility of three recons if needed. They are affluent, living in gated communities and rarely associating with anyone else. The next tier is allotted two recons ,and at the bottom are those who have no rights to any recons at all. As one of the characters points out, "That system was designed by the elite for the elite, Phee. Think about it. Is any one life more important than another?" If Mac's society is as close to ours as it might sometimes seem, then these are critical questions, and they would form the basis of interesting discussions and debates among readers of the novel. In Phee's own family, her father is a minister who tries to come to some sort of understanding of what is happening to him and what is God's will. Phee's mother is a doctor and has difficulty imagining any kind of divinity who could intend such sorrow. Mac not only entertains her audience, she challenges them.

     The Gryphon Project is Carrie Mac's eighth novel and is deserving of the awards and accolades given to her earlier books. Fans will enjoy the tension and perception of the novel, and these very characteristics, plus a cast of intriguing characters, are bound to attract new enthusiasts as well.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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