Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Greyfriar

The Greyfriar
by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
Recommended Ages: 14+

Princess Adele is the heir to the throne of the Equatorian Empire: the Alexandria, Egypt-based successor to the British Empire, in a near-future alternate-history world in which vampires - bloodsucking monsters who can endure anything except heat, decapitation, or catastrophic vital-organ damage - interrupted a steampunk Victorian era some 150 years ago with a great slaughter and now control most of the northern hemisphere above the tropics. Now, as advances in technology tip the balance back in favor of the human race, Adele's hand is promised to an American warlord and renowned vampire slayer. The marriage is meant to join the two empires in a coalition that will ensure mankind's victory in a planned war to take the world back - and also to save Equatoria from the feminine weakness of its empress-to-be. But when a vampire attack on a goodwill mission strands Adele behind enemy lines before her wedding day, Adele's surprising strength is one of the few threats the decadent vampire court of Great Britain isn't prepared for - that, and the intervention of a mysterious, masked, all-but-mythical resistance fighter named the Greyfriar.

It is tricky to try to say more about what happens in this book without spoiling surprises that weigh greatly among the pleasures of reading it. So perhaps I should give up now and list some of those pleasures. First, this book's fantasy world is a unique outlier of the burgeoning steampunk genre - a possible future built on an alternate past, in which steam power has been superceded by more efficient chemical-engineering applications, such as rocket-propelled airships, Fahrenheit blades that radiate vampire-destroying heat, and bombs that emit disabling sound waves. Second, it has an unusual take on vampires, who can cultivate great intelligence and nobility, but whose lack of creativity, sense of touch, and manual dexterity limits their capacity to create and use technology. Brushing aside ignorant superstitions about them being reanimated corpses, they are basically a parasitic life-form that runs the gamut from dangerous, feral beasts to a kind of feudal monarchy. Unfortunately, the most powerful vampire clan in Europe is led by a doddering king who has fallen under the influence of his younger son, a thorough-going monster.

Third, there is a really interesting, emotionally convincing love-triangle in this story that promises to cause exquisite pain for the romantic hero and heroine for books to come. Fourth, there are hints that in future books, Adele will be inducted into magical and religious arts that have been repressed by her empire's strictly secular society, but that will make her an unusually powerful vampire-fighter - if she isn't one already. Fifth, there are a lot of well-drawn characters in this book, including several figures of political satire, such as the hawkish American senator and the protocol-obsessed Equatorian prime minister. Sixth, the villainous vampire characters have motives you can understand and believe, and even on some level sympathize with, while remaining thoroughly and (excuse me) blood-chillingly nasty. Seventh, the fight scenes are pretty intense.

This is Book 1 of a series titled Vampire Empire, by a husband-wife writing team who also co-wrote the novel Banshee Screams, a serialized entertainment called It Came from Beneath the Sea...Again, and the "Crown & Key" trilogy of paranormal thrillers set in an alternate Victorian era. To-date there are three more Vampire Empire books, titled The Rift Walker, The Kingmakers, and The Geomancer. Clay Griffith's titles also include TV, film, and comic-book novelizations, particularly connected with the satirical superhero The Tick. It may take me a while to get to the remaining books in this series - the one I just read having been on my bookcase for several years before I opened it - but I look forward to finding out what comes next for the princess, her engagement to the unappealing senator, and her seemingly tragic, fate-defying love affair with the Greyfriar.

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