Clay and Susan Griffith’s first book in a new series, Vampire Empire is now perhaps a couple of years old. I know that the third book has just come out recently and I had almost missed out on this delightful series because of my ever growing TBR pile.
But here I make amends and stand absolved of that mistake, I tore through the first book Greyfriar. An absolutely delightful read. Been long since I read a book that is so much fun. It’s not heavy on your senses and takes us on a flight of imagination through an alternate course of world history still thriving on Steampunk technology and cleaved into two halves, the human empire and that of the vampires.
In 1870, the year of the Great Killing, Vampires took over the Northern half of the world and laid to waste the entire human settlement who fled to the southern hemisphere. Now two great super powers exist in the human world – the Equatorial empire and the American republic. At the beginning of the story we encounter Adele, the female lead of the book and heir to the Equatorial Empire being taken on a tour of the Northern wastelands by Colonel Anhalt, the head of her home guard. A choppy narrative that gets quickly whipped into shape when all hell breaks loose with an army of vampires attacking the fleet. The book steps on the gas here and zooms forward without warning. As the narrative proceeds, we are taken deep inside the vampire territory where we meet the ambitious Cesare, prince-in-waiting of the Vampire Clans and his formidable blood thirsty chief of war, Flay. We also get introduced to the mysterious GreyFriar – the namesake who happens to be a mysterious human warrior waging a lone war in the North against the blood thirsty vampires. The fourth major character who gets to be in the thick of most of the action, is actually much of a bumble head, Senator Clarke who is Adele’s fiancée. Throw into the melee, the estranged elder brother of Cesare, Heir to the Vampire Empire, Prince Gareth, it becomes a nice delicious hotchpotch of confused loyalties and misplaced trust. How the fates of these five crash in a violent heads-on collision course that goes on to actually shape the future of the entire world forms the rest of the story.
It’s a refreshing take on the vampire angle. We are all sick of the love struck mooning pale bloodless vampires that go week in their knees when a lovely damsel in distress bats their false eyelids at them. So no, you don’t have Bella mooning over pale-faced Edward-stereotypes in this book. Instead here the vampires are cruel, reveling in their violent nature. More like a fall out of their earliest ancestor Dracula. (Grin!!) Naturally the book is peppered with adrenaline-pumping high flying action sequences throughout. A major plus point for the book which also detracts several things in the story. The excessive action plays havoc with the character and plot development. Since apart from Adele, the headstrong heir to the empire who grows up to be a formidable woman of steel by the end of the book after having gone through life altering experiences at the hands of these cruel vampires, nobody else really evolves. The large-sized support cast is colorful and adds an interesting dimension to the central conflicts, but there is little or no scope for developing these characters. I am talking about interesting side roles like that of Adele’s Samurai teacher, Mamuru or even the Colonel Anhalt. I would love to see these guys grow into their own by the next books. And yes, the understated romance that blossoms mid-way even though slightly slows things down, doesn’t take anything away from the central conflict.
But personally, I think the author duo have painted an extremely refreshing take on alternate historical fantasy powered on steampunk. I don’t generally read too much of steampunk ( I couldn’t get through the initial few chapters of Boneshaker by Cherie Priest!) but this book was a welcome change. The setting is similar to current world, except that the worlds been ravaged and left to rot by the Great Killing. And of course the fire power is primitive and we have flying ships! Another big plus. There is no magic but there are hints of traces left over in this world. Geomancing, lines of power etc leave us with no doubt that there is a terribly big revelation waiting to explode by book 2 or 3. This book, weighing in at around 300-pages, was a fairly fast and engrossing read. Even though a lot of the twists are predictable, I am not complaining, this was more like a comfort read for me. And I firmly believe that we need more books like this. Vampires and Steampunk make a delicious combination and top it off with a strong confident narrative voice that Clay and Susan take on, this was a page turner par excellence.
Super satisfying read, all threads closed up and enough lingering hints of a more formidable story line opening up by next two books. Will definitely follow this up with books two and three. Solid three stars.