In the year 1870, vampires rose up out of the shadows and pretty much overthrew Western Civilization. Everyone from the US to the British Empire was either driven from their homelands or eaten. Vampires took over the northern hemisphere (it’s colder and they like cold) and left the humans alone in the southern.
Clay and Susan Griffith’s The Greyfriar starts off in the year 2020. For 150 years humanity has lived under the fear of the vampire lords of the north, and now the former British Empire is contemplating a move against them. They are seeking an alliance with the Americans, who are now in the Panama region instead of the good ol’ USA. They are marrying Princess Adele (wasn’t sure until near the end of the book how to say that) to an American politician, Senator Clark (not sure if he had a first name, come to think of it…) to unify the two great nations against the vampires.
In the time being, though, Adele and her younger brother Simon are touring the frontier lands on a dirigible (wouldn’t be proper steampunk without airships) to the north. Suddenly the airship is brazenly attacked by vampires just after sundown and after a vicious fight, the ship goes down. Adele and Simon are almost in the clutches of the vampires when a mythical man named Greyfriar shows up and saves Adele. Her brother Simon is badly injured and the Greyfriar, believing him dead, leaves him behind.
Now, I’m not going to go into the entire story. Suffice to say, this is a tremendous book and highly enjoyable. The characters seem almost normal, especially when the princess is struggling to balance her courtly duties (marrying Senator Clark) and her own desires (has the hots for the Greyfriar initially). The action scenes are intense and chaotic, befitting a true action sequence when everything is going to Hell in a hand basket around them. Some of the technology works in my head because they do a decent job explaining it, but usually everything is taken for granted.
I liked the vampire’s portrayal, how they’re imaged as their own various nations arguing amongst themselves and vying for power, much like humanity. They were very believable in that regard, though I did question their powers. For example… I hate it when people make vampires do anything overt than catch on fire and go all explodey when they’re in sunlight. Why are authors making them sparkle, weakened, and not exploding into pixie dust when vampires step out into daylight now? It’s frustrating because it takes away your greatest strength – the sun.
Another thing I disliked about the vampires (more of a wtf? than anything) is… if they don’t feel as well as humans do, which is why they’re so tough (they can ignore pain), how do they control their bodies when they’re flying? How are they correcting when the winds are about, especially when the vampires attack Adele and her brother on the airship? Just a minor question I had, and I promise this doesn’t take anything away from the story.
There are some other problems (MINOR!!!) in the book, but all in all it was a solid good time. The ending is semi-conclusive, though this is obvious the first book in a trilogy. The Greyfriar’s nature isn’t too shocking but his true identity came as a surprise, and the love story buried in the book makes for an interesting dilemma for the queen-to-be. Does she do her duty or follow her heart?
The villains… ah, here is where the Griffith’s excel in their story telling. Cesare (second son of the vampire king of London) is a complete monster, and thrives on his barbarous reputation. His henchman Flay (henchwoman) is a vicious, opportunistic killer who is looking for someone she can attach herself to and will let her keep hr power. The other vampires all fall into the same bunch, and their sadistic glee in herding their human cattle makes the blood boil.
Even Senator Clark comes off as a boisterous, annoying, pompous ass. He reminds me a bit of General Custer and towards the end of the book, I was actually imagining him leading his men into a famous Little Big Horn stand with the vampires. It made me dislike him, and I couldn’t help but imagine this song whenever he came around. But still… he came off like a real person (albeit someone you really wanted to punch in the nose) and rounded out the story. In his arrogance, he balanced the humility of the Greyfriar and made for a very interesting yin-yang duo for Princess Adele to deal with.
The cover and design is simply gorgeous, with artist Chris McGrath hitting a home run with this design. The pacing is fast and furious, and everything clicks inside. I didn’t want to put it down but was reminded that I couldn’t drive while reading a book. Curse you, physics!
Tremendous book, go and buy it without reservations. Pyr Books has found a winning duo in the couple, and hopefully we’ll hear more of the sequel soon. Fans of steampunk will surely enjoy this, as it ranks up there with Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. Maybe even surpassing the Hugo-nominated novel? Blasphemous? You decide…
–Reviewed by Jason