Fiction Reviews

Empire of The Vampire

(2021) Jay Kristoff, Harper Collins, £14.99, hrdbk, 725pp, ISBN 978-0-008-35043-7


It has been twenty-seven long years since the last sunrise. For nearly three decades, vampires have waged war against humanity; building their eternal empire even as they tear down our own. Now, only a few tiny sparks of light endure in a sea of darkness. Gabriel de León, half man, half monster and last remaining Silversaint – a sworn brother of the holy Silver Order dedicated to defending the realm from the creatures of the night – is all that stands between the world and its end. Now imprisoned by the very monsters he vowed to destroy, the last Silversaint is forced to tell his story…

Crikey, is this a weighty tome, or what? At least on first appearances. What is it? Almost two inches thick, and weighs as much as a brick. Okay, maybe that last part is an exaggeration, but it’s not so bad, even for a reluctant reader like me, helped by the illustrations throughout by Bon Orthwick, and let’s not forget the brilliant cover artwork by Kerby Rosanes depicting armed angels, snarling wolves, serpents and demonic horses. There are also two maps inside, drawn by Virginia Allyn. One at the start showing The Empire of Elidaen, and one at the end showing Gabriel’s Journey and dotted throughout the novel are almost 40 illustrations by Bon Orthwick to compliment the text which is divided into six “books” plus what might be called a prologue and epilogue.

As for the story, Gabriel de Leon, a Paleblood, a Silversaint is about to die, but before he does it would be good to get his life story, and so the task of recording it is given to vampire historian, Jean-Francois, and thus begins a tale of the past to the present day, intertwining different timelines so we don’t get a straightforward narrative, after all Gabriel doesn’t want to make things easy for Jean-Francois, he never has made it easy for vampires, but the two of them do engage in some lively verbal sparring as the novel progresses. What Jean-Francois learns is the story of Gabriel growing up, about his family, the end of daylight and the rise of the vampire empire which leads him into the brotherhood known as the Silversaints, run by priests and nuns who follow a strict code. That is combined with another strand that reveals a world-weary, somewhat pissed-off Gabriel, who is a bit of a legend because of his exploits and ability with a sword, who joins a group on a quest to fulfil a prophecy he doesn’t really believe in.

While epic in length, the reader can’t help but be reminded of books by other writers. The framing device for the story, obviously harks back to the late Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, and the post-apocalyptic theme hints to the works of Stephen King and Robert McCammon, but I was also reminded of Richard Matheson’s I am Legend and the Elric novels of Michael Moorcock, not least, because Gabriel possesses a talking sword called Ashdrinker.

It would be cynical to suggest that Kristoff has written an epic fantasy/horror tale by numbers but all the vital ingredients are there, If there was a checklist for such fare then Kristoff could certainly tick off things like: a strong, conflicted leading character; great cast of supporting characters; evil, nasty baddies; great world-building; action; humour, etc., etc., combined with solid, descriptive writing that does at time verge into being a bit O.T.T, but I think that’s allowed when the story is over 700 pages long.

Looking at Bon Orthwick’s many illustrations, which verge on the Manga-ish, you might think this is a book for young adults, and I’m sure young adults would enjoy this, but it is a bloody affair, with nasty, old-school vampires. What’s not to love? Recommended.

Ian Hunter


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