Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book Review: "The Greyfriar" (Spoilers)

I went to the local Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago with a Christmas gift-card burning a hole in my pocket.  I was primarily interested in purchasing a Blu-Ray disc of some kind, since I had recently gotten a Blu-Ray player.  I ultimately purchased The Phantom of the Opera but I also found a book that looked interesting entitled The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire, Book 1), by the husband-wife team of Clay and Susan Griffith.

The story tells the tale of a world in which in the late 19th Century, there was a gigantic assault of vampires on the centers of the industrialized nations.  The vampires took control of northern Eurasia and North America, driving these countries to relocate to tropical areas inhospitable for vampires--the British to Egypt, the Americans to Panama, and the Japanese to Southeast Asia.  I thought it looked interesting--steampunk, alternate history, and vampires.  And I haven't gotten a library membership in my new county yet, so I figured I might as well buy it.

So here comes the review...

The Good

The Griffiths do a good job describing the physical appearance of characters and machinery without boring the reader.  This is done via the use of action verbs-- think "the sailors scrambled up the gray sides of the airship, curving swords banging against their sunburned legs" rather than "the airship was gray and there were handholds on its sides.  The sailors wore white shorts and carried curving swords."

I've noticed Dean Koontz use that technique in his novel Watchers and the TVTropes entry for Dean Koontz describes how he writes lush scenery descriptions without boring the reader.  I think this is the secret.

I like the idea of vampires being humanity's predator and how they'd always existed in dark corners prior to some Great Man (well, Great Vampire) uniting all the "vampire clans" in order to literally take over the world.  I actually had an idea of my own when I was in high school involving a roughly-similar plot, only in the present-day.  The timeline was, to a large degree, a ripoff of S.M. Stirling's Draka novels (the vampires take Africa, use it as a base for further expansion, and enslave ordinary humans), but the timeline did feature a vampire Genghis Khan uniting disunited vampires in order to build an empire.

The book is never slow reading.  On a basic level, it is entertaining.

The Bad

I think there are parts of the background of the story needed a bit more elaboration.  Protagonist Princess Adele, though she has a younger brother, is repeatedly described as the heir to the throne of the remnant British Empire, whose capital is in Alexandria.  Given how irregular this would be, I think it should be described.  Since her political marriage to a prominent American is a major plot point, the possibility of a dynastic union between the "Equatorial Empire" and the United States might be a reason to put aside an inconvenient male heir, especially if he is very young.

Also, I think The Peshawar Lancers did the whole "surviving British Empire in its colonies" thing better.  For starters, even though the center of the British Empire has been relocated to India after a comet devastates the Northern Hemisphere, they still call it the British Empire.  However, owing to the Britons' assimilation into Indian culture, it's the Angrezi Raj.  In Greyfriar, the British Empire is simply called "the Equatorial Empire," which however sensible this is geographically, is a symbolic abandonment of their British identity.

Although the assimilation of the British is hinted at by Adele's mother being a Persian princess, I don't think it's gotten to the point the British would no longer view themselves as being British.  In fact, given how Adele's marriage to a prominent American politician is supposed to herald a reconquest of northern Europe from the vampires, the British in their tropical refuge never gave up on their homeland despite having been living in exile for decades.

Given where the Empire's new seat is, I would made the British Empire "the British Empire," only in Arabic or Persian, whichever sounds more elegant.

I cannot remember clearly if the revelation that the human guerrilla known as "the Greyfriar" was really a dissident vampire was a surprise or not.  However, although Prince Gareth (the vampire in question) repeatedly denounces vampire mistreatment of humans and rules benevolently over the humans who live around his center of power in Edinburgh (never feeding on the same person more than once per year and only taking a little blood), it's not clear when he adopted this view, especially since a female vampire officer who is hinted to be attracted to him remembers him as a very powerful warrior during "the Great Killing" in which the vampires took over.

The character of Senator Clark, Adele's intended, is a bit flat even though some chapters feature his POV.  He's a loud, aggressive glory-hound and although he's willing to share his soldiers' risks, there doesn't seem to be more than that.  We don't learn anything about his background, which is odd given we get inside his head.

Heck, the characters in general aren't very interesting.  Some are better developed than others, but all of them need work.

I think there could be more exposition about the vampires' takeover, given how long Adele in the book spends with Gareth (not knowing he's a vampire).  We learn a bit their biology--they produce sexually like humans do, with no "vampires turn humans into vampires" going on--but nothing about how the vampires were united or where they came from.

On the matter of biology, for a book that adopted a non-supernatural explanation for the vampires, giving them the ability to fly by reducing their density was kind of lame.  Yes, it led to cool scenes like vampires assaulting human airships and airborne duels between vampires, but it was still kind of goofy.

The Verdict

Good concept, but it could have been executed so much better.  An entertaining read, but not worth buying.  If you want to read it, I'd suggest the library.  5 out of 10.


  1. Hm... I thought Peshawar Lanzers had the Angrezi Raj?

    About Senator Clark... I am not certain that being in his head makes it odder that we learn little of his background. After all, he might not think much on it (why would he need to, unless something relating to it happens?), and by a similar token, people will hardly be inclined to tell him about his background.
    Although thinking of it, you might have meant simply that it is odd that we learn little of the background of a POV character.

  2. It does. My argument was that the "Angrezi Raj" was a better "relocated Britain" than the Equatorial Empire, since it actually acknowledged their British heritage, even though the Hindi name showed its Indianization.

    Senator Clark does reflect on his capture of St. Louis from the vampires and how it made his legend despite the fact the vampires eventually took it back.

    However, there could be so much more. He doesn't need to brood on his past like some GrimDark figure, but some more about him--a father whose accomplishments he's trying to exceed, someone close to him killed by vampires he wants to avenge, etc.--would have been very nice.

  3. Oh, I understood your point about Peshawar Lancers doing a 'relocated Britain' better. I should have been more clear; my intention was to observe that I thought it was the Angrezi Raj, rather than the Angrezevi Raj.

  4. I had copied that spelling from the Wikipedia, but checking back on it now, your spelling is correct.

    I'll have to fix that. Thanks for pointing it out.