The husband and wife writing duo that makes up Clay and Susan Griffith made quite the rounds a year ago with their genre-bending debut garnering an attention in reviews greater than for any other Pyr release to date. Because of the generally highly-regarded quality of the first tome of the ‘Vampire Empire’ trilogy, expectations for the second volume, The Rift Walker, was equally high. For some reviewers having already given their verdict, this sequel is not as strong as its predecessor, yet I would maintain that this is a surprisingly strong second outing. All the juicy elements of the first book are there - vampires, magic, steampunk, romance, political scheming and war - and the Griffiths make do without the obtrusive ‘I’m an imprisoned princess’ passages that bogged down The Greyfriar. All in all, the Griffiths continue to show us the strengths and benefits of combining a variety of genre tropes into one, lean novel.
Princess Adele abandons duty and embarks on a desperate quest to keep her nation from genocide as the Equatorian Empire and American Republic allies strategize plans for victory against the vampire clans of the north. Reunited with her great love, the mysterious adventurer known as the Greyfriar, Adele is pursued by her own people and her vengeful husband, Senator Clark. With the human alliance in disarray, Prince Cesare, lord of the British vampire clan, strikes at the very heart of Equatoria.
As Adele fights to bring order to her world, she learns more about the strange power she exhibited in the north. If she could ever bring this power under her command, she could be death to vampires. But such a victory would also cost the life of Adele’s beloved Greyfriar.
First off, a minor caveat. As mentioned above, from what I can surmise, expectations for The Rift Walker were, generally speaking, quite high while I can only admit to feeling only modest excitement for the novel. With expectation lower than the norm, I would say, there’s a chance that to me, The Rift Walker did not disappoint - as other reviewers have claimed - simply because I wasn’t looking for it to do more than it did. Please bear that in mind as you read this review, especially if you’re one of those that were/are anxious to get your paws on this book (though I imagine, if you are, you’ve probably already done this). Now let’s get to the actual review, shall we?
The Rift Walker kicks off in a much less spectacular fashion than its predecessor - no surprise vampire attacks on flying steamships here, just Alexandria, twenty-first century capital of the still very Victorian Equatorian Empire. Arguably, the first hundred pages aren’t the best showing of the Griffiths’ work, a bit slow and plodding and with very little excitement to go around. Yet this is the second, middle volume in a trilogy, without the need to pull the reader in with the big flashy ‘bang’ of the start of a first novel or the palpable tension of a third volume. I myself cherished the opportunity to get properly reacquainted with the characters without having to keep track of a million events. And really, it’s not like nothing at all is happening.
From the moment the Greyfriar makes his appearance in Alexandria, the novel undergoes a pronounced shift into high gear. The Griffiths, after having dabbled for the first hundred pages in solid characterization, offer us what we came looking for: unrelenting action, adventure, romance and a fair bit of magic. There really is something for everyone here, and this, I think, really is the what makes the Griffiths’ writing so endearing. Some will mention the noticeable downgrade in emphasis on the steampunk elements of this world, but more worth a mention is the equally noticeable increase in magic. This is an element of the world’s mythology that was clearly hinted at - even outright displayed - in The Greyfriar, but it makes a grand appearance in The Rift Walker. This could yet become an epic fantasy too!
Adele and the Greyfriar continue to be captivating characters as individuals and in their unconventional love affair. Both are characters that have great depth and strong personalities but Adele in particular grows in these areas in the second book. Well plotted events advance her character-arc further than any other character in the novel, and perhaps even further than her character progressed in the first novel. We really are able to witness first-hand her evolution, and that’s a testament to the Griffiths’ strong characterization. The Greyfriar - out of his element in this book - takes a bit of a backseat, though any appearance en force by him shines.
At the end of the day though, what I keep reading ‘Vampire Empire’, and what I imagine a lot of other readers keep reading these books for, is the all out epic entertainment they provide. In this respect, The Rift Walker really outdoes the first book, providing us with devilish conspiracies, all-out war on a reclusive vampire clan, airship chases, betrayals, heroics and complicated affairs of the heart, all told from a massive, epic scope. This is some of the same stuff we saw in The Greyfriar, but it has gotten old enough yet that we don’t desire more and more every time Clay and Susan Griffith serves us a bit of genre goodness.
So fans, have no fears, unless your expectations were ridiculously high, I don’t think Clay and Susan Griffiths will let you down. Their continued mixing of tropes from steampunk, epic fantasy, urban fantasy and adventure is still refreshing and proof of how a bit of of innovation - even in a purely gratuitous entertainment sense - can bolster a novel’s quality. If you haven’t yet gotten in on the Griffiths’ highly enjoyable, highly diverting ‘Vampire Empire’ trilogy I suggest you do so now. No matter what genre background you have, I can almost guarantee you’ll find something to your liking here. The Rift Walker is available from Pyr books in the US now, and by import to the UK.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith's Website: http://clayandsusangriffith.blogspot.com/
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