Pyr, November 2010
303 pp, Trade Paperback
Vampires. It seems one can’t escape these undead bloodsuckers. The vampire has been popular for many years, and bookshelves are now even more crowded with the stalkers of the night. One might even say the vampire novel/story has become a genre unto its own. In other words, it will take a lot for a relatively untested author (or in the case of The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book 1, author duo) to stand out in the sea of pale creatures of the dark. Clay and Susan Griffith have done just that, to an extent. This husband and wife author team has been writing for quite some time, having built up quite a resume of comic book scripting with a couple of novels to their credit. With The Greyfriar, they launch a series that is part urban fantasy, part steampunk, part alternate history, and part romance.
The Vampire Empire is set in the year 2020, 150 years after Vampires have come out of hiding to wage war on humanity. The vampires have taken over a good portion of Europe and driven humans to the equatorial regions since vampires don’t deal well with warm weather. The novel begins when Princess Adele’s airship is taken down by vampires on the way to meeting her betrothed Senator Grant, a larger than life American who killed quite a few vampires over the course of the war. Although Adele is reluctant to marry this man, she realizes the marriage will unite the two human nations under one banner which would give humans a better chance at fighting the war against the Vampires. Fortunately for Adele and the hopes of humanity, the mysterious Greyfriar comes to save the day and rescues her from the vampires.
The authors smartly show both sides of the vampire-human war. While this doesn’t necessarily paint the vampires in any better a light, it doesn’t make them an unknowable evil. Through character conversations, the Griffiths reveal a backstory for the vampires that doesn’t differ entirely too much from the commonly accepted as the vampire myth with a few exceptions. For example, the aforementioned aversion to warm weather is a logical enhancement to the myth. However, what was interesting was the mention of vampire children, and vampire women birthing vampire babies. Clearly, there is something more to be told here of the origins of the vampires.
The Greyfriar himself, his ‘costume,’ and daring rescues I found to be quite reminiscent of a comic book superhero. While his true identity is not immediately given, I don’t think it would be a spoiler to say that the reveal wasn’t too much of a surprise. Also unsurprising was the burgeoning romance betwixt Princess Adele and the Greyfriar. The character of Senator Grant comes across as a clichéd loud mouth, but that could be because the writers don’t thrust him into the spotlight very much.
I couldn’t help but comparing this novel and milieu to E.E. Knight’s Vampire Earth saga wherein Vampires have risen up and subjugated humanity which I’ve been a fan of for quite some time (review of the first novel Way of the Wolf). The true nature of the vampires is spelled outright in Knight’s novels, so it remains to be seen if the reveal of the Griffiths’s vampires is substantially different.
On balance, the plot moves briskly but perhaps because the authors are using such familiar elements and aren’t breaking away from anything too predictable. I thought the mix of steampunk, alternate history and vampires worked to give a world rich for more novels, but would like to see the authors flesh out the characters a bit more in the next novel.
A mixed recommendation that shows promise for future volumes.
© 2010 Rob H. Bedford