Fiction Reviews

Vampire Empire: The King Makers

(2012) Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith, Pyr, trdpbk, £15.99 / US$17.75, 398pp, ISBN 978-1-616-14674-8


To be honest, I am not much into vampires in general, and I knew it would be somewhat of a challenge reading this book as it is the third in a trilogy and I haven’t read the first two. I was suggested to read this as one of the authors’ names is very similar to my own!

So, given that I am not hugely into vampires as a subject matter, my enjoyment of this book really did surprise me. As mentioned previously, this is the final part of a trilogy, focussing on mankind’s battle against vampires, where the Empress Adele has launched a war against various vampire clans assisted by a vampire prince in his guise as the heroic Greyfriar. It’s set in an era of airships, and of battles being fought with guns and swords.

It opens with a hard fought battle between humans and vampires, with one of the main characters, Greyfriar, cutting a dash on the battlefield. Greyfriar is otherwise known as Prince Gareth, a vampire prince, who is battling on the side of the humans and the Empress Adele. The rich descriptions of the characters work well in illustrating the characters and the feel and the atmosphere of the events unfolding. The characterisation gives them a depth – for example, Gareth finding it hard to talk about his deceased mother, and how his mother and father loved each other, something Adele finds hard to believe in vampires. It is also interesting to see the change of perceptions, for example the amazement of Sanah, one of Adele’s close allies, when Gareth risks his life to save Adele’s in an explosion.

The dark subject matter of the book is lifted by the romance between Gareth and Adele. It is an unlikely pairing, but the way it is handled and the interaction between the characters provides interest and adds a touch of humour along the way. The way the characters are defined and their motivations ensure there is a depth to the pairing in question, particularly when they consider the prejudices they would face as Gareth plots to release himself of the Greyfriar guise.

It is also interesting to read of the connection between Empress Adele and General Anhalt, and how he acts as her confidante, and provides her with counsel, for example when she asks him of what he thinks of her as an empress, and of his opinion regarding her relationship with Gareth and whether he thinks he is using her for his own ends. Touches like this add a depth to the characters, and certainly make the reader want to know more about them.

In a story where the action moves from country to country, it is helpful to have strong characters to keep the narrative moving. The descriptions of the environments the characters find themselves in also work well in setting the scene. They are used effectively as not only is the general location described, touches such as the presence of vampires and the nature of their being there details the effect the war is having on a global scale.

Flay, on the side of the vampires, comes across as a vicious and dark character, the nature of who is illustrated when a young boy begs her for mercy and she ruthlessly kills him. Flay makes for a wonderfully contrasting character as opposed to the likes of Gareth and Adele and comes across as a classic villain. Cesare, Gareth’s brother, also adds a hint of villainy with dark and decisive actions. The sibling rivalry between Cesare and Gareth is touched upon, as are the effects of Gareth’s conflict with his brother and the implications of the situation he finds himself in.

Some aspects of the characters’ development are quite touching – for example when Mamoru’s loss of his family at the hands of vampires is revealed through a flashback. Mamoru, a samurai, certainly has his own agenda in the war and will go to any lengths to ensure it is completed. This leads to him arranging for an assassin, who is a geomancer, to track down Gareth. Adele is also a geomancer, with the ability to use this form of magic to even the score in the war between humans and vampire but potentially at the cost of her own life. The story is kept fresh by unfolding revelations with Adele finding that those closest to her are not what they seem at first, and with secrets, betrayal and vengeance being unlocked along the way.

While this can be read at a stretch as a standalone novel, I imagine the reader would find it easier to follow having read the first two parts. There are some references to previous events and there is a sense of momentum building – and that this probably began with the preceeding novels – as the story reaches its climax. Nonetheless, having only read the third part, the way the novel reaches its conclusion is satisfying and there are some pure cliff-hanger moments present, even though I imagine that this would have had a greater impact should the story arc be read from the trilogy's start.

Sue Griffiths

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