Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith
Published 2010 301 pages
Summary (from book jacket)
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 were 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 re-establish 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 of Equatoria, a remnant of 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 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.
The Greyfriar is the first book in the Vampire Empire trilogy, an epic steampunk adventure authored by husband and wife writing team Clay and Susan Griffith. Their previous writing credits include numerous short stories, media tie-ins and scriptwriting for TV – all this writing experience paying off with The Greyfriar, a startlingly good novel.
Why am I startled? Well, The Greyfriar is just so unexpectedly brilliant! When the story started it seemed to have all the hallmarks of a book that had been written by a screenwriter. It’s something to do with the way that screenwriters quickly set-up and change scenes, the way they use dialogue and the way they often let stories be driven more by actions than by characters. By themselves they’re not bad ways to tell a story but sometimes writers of this particular style forget that there are no actors to infuse the characters with emotion – resulting in one-dimensional storybook heroes and villains. For the first couple of chapters I feared that flimsy characters hiding behind non-stop action would be the order of the day for The Greyfriar, but my fears were proved groundless once the story got started.
The Greyfriar launches readers into a steampunk world of alternative history. The remnants of the British Empire are forced into the Equatorial region, the northern countries of Europe and the Americas having been lost to the occupying vampire force 100 years previously. The vampire mythology is a mixture of old and new ideas. The vampires are a separate species from humans, living rather than undead, but there is some unexplained magic at work too – for example the vampires can fly but nobody scientifically knows how they actually do it. The vampires hunt humans and drink blood but are untroubled by sunlight. However they are weakened by heat and are therefore not suited to hot climates, which is why all the free people of the world are clustered around the Equator. Interestingly the vampires can’t understand or use the objects of human culture – use of tools, writing, reading and art is lost upon them. Not surprisingly free humans regard vampires as animals, since vampires are creatures of instinct and hunger with no culture of their own.
While there is no shortage of steam powered dirigibles, wind-up anti-vampire devices and chemical weapons in the story none of the steampunk science is explained in any detail. The magical elements of the Vampire Empire world aren’t really expanded upon in this book either but since this is the first part of a trilogy I would expect more detail and development in later instalments. This isn’t really an issue though since the story’s pacing rushes readers past most of these ideas without giving them time to worry over the details.
On the eve of war between the free humans and the vampires Princess Adele, heir to the Equatoria Empire, is captured by vampires. She is a young woman, only 19 years old, and her value to the Empire seems to be measured in her ability to unite Equatoria and America by her marriage to Senator Clark, America’s famous vampire massacring hero. The Princess is spirited away to London and it is down to Greyfriar, a masked swordsman and folk hero of legend, of save her from death at the hands of the vampires. The heroic Senator Clark is also keen to rescue his betrothed although it’s hard to root for the brash American, who may be a paragon of vampire-slaying virtue but has a personality that would be greatly improved by a large dose of humility.
Greyfriar and Princess Adele are stars of this story with their star-crossed (not to mention heartbreaking) romance. There is no shortage of vampiric villainy and the vampires are relentless in their pursuit of Adele, giving Greyfriar plenty of opportunities for sword wielding heroics. Greyfriar is reminiscent of the pulp fiction hero Zorro – only he fights vampires rather than corrupt politicians. There is also a touch of Beauty and The Beast about the romance which just adds to the poignancy of the story…
The Greyfriar is a pulp fantasy adventure story of epic scale. More than that, it’s vastly entertaining, emotionally moving and utterly engrossing. Mixing dirigibles, fast-paced action, romance and vampires to good effect The Greyfriar gets the Vampire Empire trilogy off to a fantastic start. I loved this book and I highly recommend it to any urban fantasy fans who are bored with the usual genre clichés… And to vampire fans who enjoy evil antagonists… And to young adult readers who should be able to identify with Princess Adele and might enjoy reading a story that isn’t about vampires going to high school for a change...
LoveVampires Review Rating: