Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire #1) by Clay and Susan Griffith
2010; Pyr Books
Vampire predators run wild in this exciting steampunk adventure, the first in an alternate history trilogy that is already attracting attention. In 1870, monsters rise up and conquer the northern lands, As great cities are swallowed up by carnage and disease, landowners and other elite flee south to escape their blood-thirsty wrath. One hundred fifty years later, the great divide still exists; fangs on one side of the border, worried defenders on the other. This fragile equilibrium is threatened, then crumbles after a single young princess becomes almost hopelessly lost in the hostile territory. At first, she has only one defender: a mysterious Greyfriar who roams freely in dangerous vampire regions. (courtesy of Goodreads)
The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire #1) by Clay and Susan Griffith is one of the best books I've read thus far in 2011. It's one of those books where I keep going back to re-read my favorite parts again and again.
It is a subtle novel. There is so much going on and such complex world building that it took me several chapters before I really connected with the characters or stories. But once I did, I was hooked.
The Greyfriar vampires are just the kind of supernatural creatures I like. Unlike many novels which envisions vampires as hyper-sexualized creatures, the Greyfriar vampires are dark and violent, more like animals than humans. They do not interact with humans other than to feed or enslave them. Like almost all vampire legends, they are also extremeley intelligent and have a complex political and clan structure. As the book goes on, our opinion of vampires becomes more layered. Perhaps the barbaric views all humans hold of them is unjustified...or perhaps there are only a few very odd exceptions. Regardless, the authors hammer chips into Princess Adele's and the reader's preconceived notions.
It took me awhile to warm to Adele, the main character. At first, she seems naive and spoiled, having lived a sheltered royal life. At the same time, I sensed an underlying wish to be someone, tempered by a strong sense of duty; she was willing to marry a strange, brash American Senator for the political needs of her kingdom. I admired her for being so selfless. However, she was closed - I didn't connect to her emotionally. This changes as the book goes on. Once Adele is captured by the vampires, we see the true Princess emerge. She is brave, passionate, stubborn, and loyal. She is slow to change, but also open minded enough to know what is good when she sees it. She truly is a heroine.
Greyfriar was one of the best characters I've read in a long time. He starts out shrouded in mystery, for reasons that become clear soon enough. He is unbelievably brave. I loved the contrast between his gentle, kind nature and his capacity for extreme violence and vengeance. A complex character if there ever was one.
The plot is fabulous. A mixture of suspenseful action scenes with a slow-building romance will satisfy readers of multiple genres. Adele goes from one dangerous situation to another. Interspersed with her death defying escapes are scenes laying out the complex political world in the Vampire Empire universe. The vampires are plotting, the Americans are plotting, the Equatorians are plotting, and even Adele's tutor has an underground political network. The political maneuvering is sure to become more involved as the series continues. Meanwhile, a sweet and surprisingly gentle romance grows between Adele and Greyfriar. There's no love at first sight in this novel. Rather there are shared experiences, both positive and negative, that create a romance out of trust, shared respect, and ultimately deep love. It was the romantic scenes that I went back to re-read.
The Griffiths' prose does a fabulous job setting an atmosphere that feels dark and oppressive. Like a cloudy, humid day, you can almost feel the tension in the air. The writing is neither easy nor hard. The reader's eyes do not fly along the page - there are too many words on the page and none can legitimately be skipped - but the prose is steady and readable.
I highly recommend The Greyfriar for anyone who loves (a) vampires, (b) darkness, (c) true romance, (d) fabulous world building, and (e) a terrific story.
Rating: 4.5 / 5