The Greyfriar, first of three in the Vampire Empire Series, is the newest steampunk release from Pyr Books, though this also happens to be vampire-centric. Vampires and steampunk - good mix, no? One might think such a mix would be difficult to mesh together but Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith manage it splendidly, bringing the reader an invigorating reading experience. Folks, this one is full of action, adventure, myth, rousing emotions and characters which there’s a good chance you’ll grow to love - be prepared to add it to your reading lists.
In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. Millions of humans were killed outright. Millions more died of disease and famine due to the havoc that followed. Within two years, once-great cities wee shrouded by the grey empire of the vampire clans. Human refugees fled south to the tropics because vampires could not tolerate the constant heat there. They brought technology and a feverish drive to reestablish their shattered societies of steam and iron amid the mosques of Alexandria, the torrid quietude of Panama, or the green temples of Malaya.
It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming.
Princess Adele is heir to the Empire Equatoria, a remnant the old tropical British Empire. She is quick with her wit as well as with a sword or gun. She is eager for an adventure before she settles into a life of duty and political marriage to a man she does not know. But her quest turns black when she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan. Her only protector is the Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.
This, thankfully enough, isn’t you average vampire story. For starters this isn’t a world where they are forced to stay hidden in the shadows at all costs. No, they’ve already made their move and have essentially conquered what were the industrial powers of the world - Europe and America. The dynamic then is not at all the same. In fact it doesn’t even read like a vampire novel (once again, thankfully enough) but more like an epic fantasy with varying point of views and a sprawling landscape across which the story develops. Let’s not forget either that technically this is a book set in the future, 2020, though the technology level doesn’t indicate that one bit. Vampire invasions will do that, I guess.
Clay and Susan Griffith also put their own spin on the vampire myth - how they came into being, how they act, etc. It’s not the most groundbreaking of spins but if suffices. And it doesn’t really matter anyways, since unlike in some books its not these small details of worldbuilding that make a difference - the story is good enough in and of itself for that. Speaking of which, the story really is quite good. There’s your danger and heroism in the face of danger, action and touching moments of character interactions. All in all a nice spread.
It is not, however, without flaws. The Greyfriar wanders about aimlessly a bit too much for it to be perfect. Looking back on the plot, it is obvious that a lot of the plot is spent with the main character, Adele, imprisoned and worrying about her fate or other characters making plans and deciding whether or not to act. A tightening of the narrative in this respect may have helped the book along. At barely 300 pages though this doesn’t mean that the book isn’t fast. To the contrary, I read it in a night. That’s a pretty good indication of how gripping it can be.
This maybe a product of arresting characters the Griffiths depict for the reader. The Princess Adele is at once a fragile and innocent teenage girl and a strong, driven young women capable of holding her own even against ravaging vampires. Greyfriar is even more captivating: mysterious yet approachable with some appreciable ass-kicking abilities and a secret that will eventually lead to a very poignant reveal. So, not a bad cast at all, especially when one factors in the side-characters which enliven the background of the book, and the inevitable big vampire baddy. Yes, that’s a bit cliché but The Greyfriar carries it well.
Many other reviewers have called this book the ‘best vampire book of the year’ and I’m tempted to agree, though I don’t know how much weight that would carry seeing as The Greyfriar is just about the only vampire book I’ve read this year (if we filter out the Short Second Lives of Bree Tanners and whatnots). What I can say however is that Clay and Susan Griffith’s debut novel is a strong offering that has very good chances of winning you over. My recommendation goes to most readers of speculative fiction but in particular to epic fantasy lovers as this may just fulfill your needs for something a bit shorter and different while retaining obligatory epic proportions. The Vampire Empire series is a trilogy and I’m sure you can expect the sequel sometime in the not-too-distant future.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Clay & Susan Griffith's Website: http://clayandsusangriffith.blogspot.com/
Buy The Greyfriar: