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Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Authors:  Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith
Plot Type:  Alternate History, Steampunk, Fantasy
Publisher and Titles:  Pyr
          The Greyfriar (2010)
          The Rift Walker (2011)
          The Kingmakers (2012) (FINAL) 

PUBLISHING UPDATE: Beginning in November 2015, the authors plan to publish a new series that I am going to call the VAMPIRE EMPIRE SPIN-OFF SERIES. The authors describe the new series as "an ongoing, character-based, urban fantasy series set in the same VAMPIRE EMPIRE universe as the previous trilogy!" In order to maintain a manageable length for this post, I will be reviewing those new novels on a separate post. As soon as the first review goes up, I will insert a link to that page.

     In this world, vampires rose up against humans in 1870, annihilating much of the human population of Europe and North America. These vampires cannot withstand warm temperatures, so they have remained in the northern latitudes while the human survivors have settled in the equatorial regions of the globe. As the series begins, the year is 2020, and vampires and humans have been maintaining an uneasy coexistence, keeping to their own territories, except for some skirmishes along the frontier

     The vampires in this world are a sorry and scary lot. Although their rulers and government officials are human in appearance, the rest of the vampire population is made up of pale, filthy, humanoid creatures who are totally illiterate and can barely do more than hiss at one another. The ruined city of London is littered with the corpses and bones of the vampires' human prey, while even more humans wander around in a state of shock as they await their awful fate. The vampires have no manual dexterity at all. They must wear cast-off, filthy, mismatched human clothing because they can't make their own. They can't sew, write, run machinery, pilot a ship, or do anything else that requires fine motor skills. The vampires move around mostly by flying; they can take off and hover just like helicopters. If they need to use an airship, a subjugated human crew runs it for them.

     Wealthy vampires keep Herds of humans as blood sources. Cesare, the villainous vampire prince of Britain, has tricked some of the humans into serving him. He "had the genius to play on the old mythology that vampires were undead humans risen from the grave. He had convinced huge numbers of humans in the north that if they died in service to their vampire masters, they would rise to join the ruling class. Over the last few years, preparing for a war with the free humans..., he had forged legions of so-called 'Undead.'" (Kingmakers, p. 47) Cesare sends his Undead into Equatoria as spies and assassins. That promise of resurrection, by the way, is a total lie, but the Undead are true believers who are eager to die for the vampire cause.

      The heroine of the series is Adele, heir to the throne of the Empire Equatoria, which is located where Egypt used to be. Adele is a budding geomancer, and her skills in this area develop and grow stronger as the series moves along. Here, one character describes geomancy: "Most geomancy uses the earth's energy like drinking from a fountain, like taking a cursory token." (Vampire Empire, p. 182) Adele's tutor, and mentor, is Mamoru, a Japanese geomancer with a deep hatred of vampires.

     The series hero is a mysterious, masked Zorro-type character who hides his identity and calls himself the Greyfriar. The Greyfriar is well known to villagers near the frontier because he has a reputation for protecting humans by successfully fighting and defeating the vampires. 

     The steampunk aspect of the series comes from the characters' use of steam or gas for a variety of purposes, chiefly transportation. In the opening scene, we, at first, think that Adele and her party are on a ship, and they arebut it's an airship that is suspended from a steam-driven dirigible. Some of their weapons are also gas or steam powered.          

                         NOVEL 1:  The Greyfriar                         
     In the opening scene, Adele and her younger brother, Simon, are on a good-will cruise to the Northern Mediterranean region (formerly southern France) when they are attacked by a vampire army. During the battle, Simon is badly injured, and Adele is saved when she is carried off by the Greyfriar. Unfortunately, the vampires' vicious war chief, Flay, eventually captures Adele and carries her off to the vampire's capital city of London. There, she is held in the Tower of London by the murderous vampire prince, Cesare, who threatens her life. Just in the nick of time, Adele is saved by Cesare's older brother, Prince Gareth of Scotland, who is as kind and gentle as Cesare is mean and cruel. Gareth carries Adele off to his castle in Edinburgh, where friendship blossoms between the two. More events occur during Adele's captivity, but I don't want to go any further for fear of spoiling the story.

      Meanwhile, back home in Alexandria, Adele's fiance, Senator Clark, arrives from the American Republic, where he is a renowned vampire killer. He is also a larger-than-life blowhard, and we soon begin to feel a great deal of sympathy for Adele if she really has to marry him. This is an arranged political marriage that will unite two great kingdoms and will probably mark the beginning of a massive war against the vampires. 

      Another plot thread involves Mamoru, Adele's tutor. For a number of years, Mamoru has been working with Adele to develop her nascent geomancing talents. He and several other mystics appear to have some long-range plans for Adele, but those plans are not spelled out in the first book.

      I don't want to go into much more of the plot because there is too much of a chance that I will spoil the story for you. I'll just say that the ending of this first book is inconclusive, leaving the reader desperate for book 2. I enjoyed The Greyfriar immensely. Although there is an old-fashioned swashbuckling tone to the story, this world is fresh and inventive, and the characters are appealing and interesting. The vampire mythology is terrific, with their hatred and disdain for human life being counterbalanced by their all-too-human traits of jealousy and greed (and sometimes, love). What's also great is the level of political intrigue that goes on in both the human and the vampire nations. As Mark Twain once said, "...when you are in politics you are in a wasp's nest with a short shirt-tail...."and that seems to be true whether you're a vampire or a human.

      I promise you that once you start reading, you'll get pulled right into the story from the very first page. Even though this book is only 300 pages long, there's a lot of action packed into the plot.

                         NOVEL 2:  The Rift Walker                         
     As the second book opens, Adele is back in Equatoria, safe and sound, and Senator Clark is pressuring the Emperor (Adele's father) to set a wedding date so that he can formalize his connection with the Equatorian throne and get on with the vampire wars. Clark intends to kill all of the humans in the North, thus depriving the vampires of their food source. Adele is, of course, horrified by this. She tries to fight against the marriage, but her father insists that she has no choice in the matter. In the meantime, Gareth (aka Greyfriar) is in London checking on his evil brother Cesare when he learns that Cesare plans to kill both Adele and Senator Clark during the wedding ceremony. He heads quickly for Alexandria where he interrupts the wedding by crashing through a huge window and carrying Adele off in his arms. How romantic! 

     Just as in book 1, the plot weaves together several story threads. First, we follow Gareth and Adele as they escape from Alexandria and head for the African nation of Katanga, where Adele asks King Msiri for sanctuary. He grants her wish with one condition: she must assist him in wiping out a nest of vampires in the Mountains of the Moon. Another story line follows the conniving prime minister, Lord Kelvin, as he makes deals with the vampires, believing that they will help him attain the power of the throne. We also look in on Cesare as he continues to plot against the human world. And one last story line follows Mamoru and his network of geomancers as they plot to make Adele more powerful and then to control her. As the story progresses, Adele's geomancing talents grow stronger and stronger, to the point that, at times, she has trouble controlling them. The bad thing about that is that the use of geomancy can injure or even kill vampires, so Greyfriar has to stay far, far away from her when she is manipulating her powers, and he can't touch Adele for days after she has been using her geomancy.

   This is a swashbuckling kind of story, with elements of the Age of Chivalry, modern TV sit-com repartee, and the authors' inventive vampire mythology. In The Rift Walker, Adele is definitely the main character, with Gareth taking a back seat all the way. For me, that was disappointing because Gareth seemed to turn into just a yes-manalways supportive, never demanding, and not contributing much of anything to the story. The reasons for the couple's great attraction to one another are unclear because they rarely hold a conversation about a topic other than one or the other's personal safety. I have to say that I liked the first book better than the second, and I'm hoping that the thirdand finalbook will be better than this one. Still, it's a fresh approach to the vampire mythos, with just enough steampunk gadgetry mixed in to liven things up without being too overpoweringly technical.

                        NOVEL 3:  The Kingmakers                         
     As the story begins, Equatoria is deep into an all-out war with the vampires of Northern Europe, most of whom have allied with Cesare. Flay and her vampire army are winning most of the battles, and the Equatorian army has taken huge losses. The first quarter of the book focuses on bloody battle scenes at the front, and the action seems to crawl along. Then, the plot gets more interesting as the story moves to Alexandria, where Adele must deal with a traitorous Council member, an Undead assassin, and a wartime economy that is draining her empire of both money and men. Adele has matured from the young, carefree girl of book 1 to a sober war-time empress who is forced to make many morally difficult decisions. One of these decisions involves Mamoru, Adele's tutor, who takes a step into psycho-land and becomes Adele's enemy. As the war escalates, Adele and Greyfriar must come up with a plan to take out Cesare once and for all so that Equatoria can win. 

     Greyfriar is back to his fearless, adventurous self in this book as he spends time on the front lines, saves Adele's life a few times, and takes on both Flay and Cesare. Adele also sees some action as she uses her geomancy skills to win a battle early in the story. When the climactic final showdown rolls around, Adele is at its very center, with Greyfriar as her protector. Both Adele and Greyfriar suffer grievous injuries throughout the book as they are beaten, burned, stabbed, and blown up in various battles and personal attacks. 

     By the end, Adele is forced into using her full geomancy powers, with incredible consequences for the British vampire population and for Greyfriar. Meanwhile, Greyfriar must come to terms with his dual identities. All in all, this is a fine ending for a great series.

     There are several stand-out scenes in this book. For me, the most touching is the one in which Adele introduces Greyfriar to the great Library of Alexandria. We remember back in book 1 when Greyfriar proudly showed Adele his pathetic shelf of battered books. Now, he is humbled to be surrounded by grand rooms full of thousands of books, from ancient to modern. Another great scene takes place in London when Greyfriar finds that Cesare has destroyed his home in the British Museum and has dragged a magnificent statue into the courtyard, turning it into a faux representation of their late father. Greyfriar remembers how Adele explained the history of the statue to him, and he confronts Cesare with the ironic significance of his actions. 

     All of the leading characters and most of the supporting characters are fully developed, with extensive personal histories and complex personalities. No one is all good or all bad. Even though Cesare and Glay are villains, we understand what made them that way. We also understand why they must be destroyed, but we (and Adele and Greyfriar) don't necessarily feel good about it. In every book, characters must grapple with issues of morality, loyalty, and justice, and they consistently do it in interesting and compelling ways. The Griffiths have created a marvelous world in this trilogy, and I highly recommend it. 

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