Author: Susan and Clay Griffith
Genre: Adult, Sci-Fi, Alternate History/Universe, Paranormal, Steampunk
Publication Date: November 18, 2010 (Pyr/Prometheus – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided review copy
Summary: 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.
☆: 3.5/5 stars – a slow start, but a great first book when all is said and done!
Review: I wasn’t expecting this book’s pace to be so slow in the beginning – I have to agree with other reviewers, that the pace up until the last…third? or so? of the book is leisurely rather than actually grippingly fast. And I think that’s why I had trouble getting into it in the beginning. But once things did get going, they really got going, and I can’t wait to read the next book in this trilogy.
I really love the take that the Griffiths had on alternate history and vampires here – I love the idea that pretty much the top half of the globe is lost to humanity, that vampires fly and can barely speak any other language but Hissing, and that all of the old empires fled south of the equator to keep on going. I also loved this romantic idea of the Greyfriar (but I do admit that I kind of did see his true identity coming – that wasn’t much of a surprise) rescuing people and fighting vampires all at once. This is a very romantic book – in the Victorian sense. In terms of actual love-related romance, it was very clean and reminded me more than a little of “Beauty and the Beast” (Disney version, not the 1989 version with Linda Hamilton or the original fairy tale version). I’m surprised this one didn’t land in the YA market because of how clean it is – in fact, I wish it had been a little bold in all other areas if just to delineate that it wasn’t a YA book.
I love how absolutely unapologetically barbaric these vampires are. Much like the vampires in Andrew Fukuda’s “The Hunt”, these aren’t sparkly vegetarian vampires – they drool, their pillaged ex-human cities are full of rotting human (“livestock”) bodies and bones, and they’re not afraid to lynch mob anything that may feed them. This area is where I wish I’d had more brutality expressed if we’re really supposed to be feeling why humans fled so far south geographically. I feel like the Griffiths really stayed their hand on this one, and I wish they hadn’t. Here’s hoping the next two books really bring the horror factor to these vampires.
As for characters, they did feel real, though some felt more real than others. I wish there’d been more of an evening out of character development for the main cast, but Adele, Flay, Cesare, and the Greyfriar felt the most real. It should have been spread a little more across the board. The worldbuilding was fantastic, and the use of sensory language and imagery was great – but just like they stayed their hand with going into the vampires’ savagery, I feel like the Griffiths also stayed their hands here. I could have used more sensory input. But in the areas where it counted, I’m satisfied with what I got in terms of establishing a firm first book of a trilogy.
For hardcore steampunk fans, this one may not grip you like some of Cherie Priest’s work, or William Gibson’s, but for newbies, I’d recommend easing yourself into things with this book. It’s a great, clean way to introduce yourself to the idea of alternate history.
Final verdict? If you’re looking for something to start with in the steampunk genre, this would definitely be the book I’d recommend. “Vampire Empire: The Greyfriar” is out now from Pyr/Prometheus in North America, so don’t miss it!