THE GREYFRIAR (Vampire Empire, book 1) by Clay & Susan Griffith
Pyr, 2010, 303 pages, 978-1-61614-247-6, Trade Paperback, $16.00
I’ll be honest. I’ve struggled with this review for a few days now. The problem lies not with having a lack of things to say, but with the fact that everything I want to say involves a Spoiler of Great Magnitude.
So, to summarize without giving too much away, here’s the response I posted to Twitter after finishing the book:
The Greyfriar was awesome. I cried. There were cats.
It’s true. . . .
But in all seriousness (not that I was joking before…), The Greyfriar is a fantastic blend of genres that, had you tried to explain it to me without the book as proof, I might have believed impossible to put into practice. There’s adventure, politics, war, romance, mysticism, and alternate history. There are airships, cowboys (of a sort), cross-country escapes, and, well, vampires.
But not vampires like you’ve come to expect, and not over-romanticized vampires possessing mastery of everything possible yet easily crippled by superstition. No, these vampires are a force, but more than that, a force that dismisses humans as cattle and humanity’s creations as convenient leftovers ripe for the taking. There are no seductive soirees here, but terrifying festivals that leave corpses behind.
Not only that, but there’s a tough-yet-likeable empress in the making, her cocksure fiancé, a swashbuckling hero, and an uncommon vampire prince. Sound like the makings of an incredible adventure story? Well, it should, because that’s what The Greyfriar is. That and more.
The world of The Greyfriar is much changed from what we know. In the late 1800s, vampires swept over the continents, claiming the northern regions as their own as they slaughtered the human inhabitants of entire countries and forced the survivors to flee to the south where the vampires were less likely to follow. What arose was the Equatorian Empire, a vast network of tropical countries originally grown out of the British colonies.
Princess Adele is the next heir to the Empire, but in keeping with patriarchal standards she is expected to marry Senator Clark from the Americas. The marriage will join the two great nations and, together, they will wage war on the vampires in an attempt to reclaim what was lost centuries before.
When an Imperial convoy is attacked, however, and Adele is lost in vampire territory, the Empire’s future becomes uncertain. Her chances for survival are slim. That is, until the Greyfriar turns out to be real and not just a story made up by desperate humans.
Because I had been anticipating this novel for so long, part of me was concerned that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. But I needn’t have worried. I loved just about everything about this book. The premise was fascinating from the very beginning, and both the characters and the setting were constantly enjoyable. I applaud Clay and Susan Griffith for their alternate world–given the circumstances of the vampire invasion, the resulting territorial divisions are believable. Though I know it wasn’t possible to explore many of the locations that make up the Equatorial Empire–or any of the other Great Powers–during The Greyfriar, I would be happy to see more of them in the coming books should they prove to be important to the story.
One of the most unexpected but wonderful aspects of the novel was its multicultural feel. Because of the world’s divisions, there’s a greater mix of peoples. Even Adele has a distinctly ethnic look compared to the courtiers of the Empire (or even compared to her own brother). Initially, I was a little surprised that, after 150 years, these particular features would still garner derision from members of the court. But considering that the people of the Empire are still dreaming of their old homeland, it’s not unexpected that they would still prefer the features of their Northern ancestors.
The characters in The Greyfriar were each distinct and fascinating. Adele is a wonderful female lead–smart and tough but still feminine, always learning and never obstinate when it isn’t necessary. Her development over the course of the story is the most obvious, and I’m dying to find out how she handles herself in the next book now that she has all of these new experiences behind her. She’s in a tough spot all around, but politically most of all.
Only a few other members of the Empire are introduced, but I enjoyed them as well–Colonel Anhalt in particular. His staunch loyalty to the royal children was obvious, as was his skill even under adverse conditions. He’s an upright man who knows his duty but also cares for those under his charge.
The Greyfriar is fantastically enigmatic, and I enjoyed the interaction between him and the members of the various Northern human settlements. The authors establish from the beginning that he’s well known across the area, and that the people trust him implicitly. As to his identity, I won’t say much though I expect the reader will be able to figure it out.
As for the vampires, I was pleased that they, too, received individualized attention rather than being completely abstracted Bad Guys. The main vampire characters in the story–Cesare, Flay, and Gareth–are all well-rendered with their own agendas and expectations. Moreover, the details of the vampire lore were intriguing. They’re particular about tradition, and they have children of their own rather than “turning” humans as is common in other stories. They do not read or write, and they know very little about human devices and creations beyond the necessary, such as clothing and buildings. There are also different levels of civilization, from the animal-like hunters to the royal family living in London. Interesting stuff, and the family dynamics between the princes and their father add another problematic layer to the goings-on.
So, am I in it till the end? You bet. I love these characters, I’m intrigued by the world, and I absolutely have to know the results of what’s begun in book one. I stand ready with a pen over my calendar to write down the release date of book two.