The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire, Book 1)
by Clay &. Susan Griffith
Review by Drew Bittner
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616142476
Date: 02 November 2010 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Princess Adele and her brother are en route to a joining of two great powers when their airship is attacked by a veritable army of vampires. Crashlanding in vampire-held France, Adele's survival depends upon a legend: the Greyfriar, tireless foe of the vampires who rule Europe, Russia, and North America. He is the only one who can save her from the rapacious Prince Cesare--if his own secrets don't betray him first.
Such is The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire, Book One by Clay and Susan Griffith. In 1870, vampires rose up and commenced the Great Killing, by which they overthrew human rule of northerly climes (they can tolerate sunlight but not heat) and established themselves as co-dominant on the planet.
One hundred and fifty years later, the nations of Equatoria (ruled from Alexandria and collecting the European emigres under one leader) and America (ruled from Panama) are to be joined politically through a marriage: the Princess Adele with Senator Clark of America. The vampires have learned of this proposed alliance and seek to smash it in advance, by kidnapping Adele and forcing a peace treaty on her father, the Emperor Constantine.
However, nothing goes according to plan. Adele proves a formidable fighter; she overcomes a handful of vampires (a great achievement for any warrior) but only escapes with the help of Greyfriar, a guerrilla warrior and saboteur who relentlessly attacks the vampires in their own territory. She thought him only a myth but he proves all too real--yet before he can make good on his promise to get her home, she is taken by Cesare, prince of London and the most savage vampire chieftain alive.
Now all of Adele's hopes are pinned to Greyfriar, though Cesare's studious and apolitical brother Gareth also has a role to play. The wild card in all this, however, is Clark, who will not accept his bride-to-be languishing in enemy hands. He launches a foolhardy rescue mission, intent on proving his bravery and building his reputation--oh, and saving his intended as well.
But things are not as they seem and even Greyfriar will be pushed to his limits by this challenge, when a princess (who is more than she appears) will threaten everything he has tried to achieve.
Clay and Susan Griffith present a neat, intriguing fusion of steampunk and vampire apocalypse in this volume. Greyfriar is a fascinating creation, with several implicit and explicit contradictions; wisely, there are key elements of this character's backstory in particular that are not fleshed out, but left for the reader to imagine (or to see expanded in future novels). His goals and motivations are readily understood, but the Griffiths are in no hurry to reveal them. Like Adele, the reader must plumb the mystery of this character to reach the good stuff.
Likewise Adele is more than just a damsel in distress, or a warrior-hearted girl trapped in a society that represses her. The latter is there, sort of, but her potential is being cautiously and slowly developed by her mentor Mamoru (who has some esoteric skills of his own). She might be the most dangerous enemy the vampires have ever faced, if she is able to come into her full power in time. In any case, she is a plucky, resourceful heroine and a good match for the canny Greyfriar.
On the villain side, Cesare is enjoyably despicable, as is his war chief Flay (whose self-interest leads to an interesting conversation with Prince Gareth). They hate humans, have no regard for human achievements (book burning is a favorite vampire pastime, apparently) and crush their subjects under foot. The depiction of vampire society--as ruled by strength and treachery--is a strong one, as is the view of London under their century-plus old rule.
The Griffiths have set up an entertaining premise. I for one look forward to seeing more installments in the adventures of Greyfriar and Adele--this odd mashup of genres has a lot of fuel left in the tank.