In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. Millions of humans were killed outright. Millions more died of disease and famine due to the havoc that followed. Within two years, once great cities were shrouded by the grey empire of the vampire clans. Human refugees fled south to the tropics because vampires could not tolerate the constant heat there. They brought technology and a feverish drive to reestablish their shattered societies of steam and iron amid the mosques of Alexandria, the torrid quietude of Panama, or the green temples of Malaya.
It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming.
Princess Adele is heir to the Empire of Equatoria, a remnant of the old tropical British Empire. She is quick with her wit as well as with a sword or gun. She is eager for an adventure before she settles into a life of duty and political marriage to man she does not know. But her quest turns black when she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan. Her only protector is The Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.
I’ve been feeling like a real spoilsport lately, frequently expressing my disappointment with books that so many other reviewers are raving about. Unfortunately I’m going to pit myself against the majority opinion once again, as I share with you my thoughts on The Greyfriar, the highly acclaimed new steampunk, vampire novel by Clay and Susan Griffith.
I admit that part of the problem is that my expectations of The Greyfriar were pretty high based on all of the five star reviews on Goodreads, and all of the praise heaped on it by my fellow book bloggers. Every aspect of the book is rhapsodized about, from the writing and the plotting to the characterization and the world building , and so I was expecting some pretty wonderful things from The Greyfriar. And so it’s no surprise, really, that after such a build up the book would fall short of my expectations in some regards, but after finishing it I was simply baffled that everyone was making such a fuss about this rather unremarkable book.
Don’t get me wrong though, The Greyfriar is not without its merits and for the most part I found it fun and entertaining. I enjoyed the way the book included vampires in this alternate history, steampunk setting and it was interesting to see the authors’ take on the vampires, which was far different from what you will find in most modern vampire books. The Griffiths also include some interesting additions to the vampire myths, such as the idea of baby vampires that nurse on their mothers’ blood, often killing them in the process, making motherhood a danger most vampires have come to avoid. Several of the traditional myths are dismissed here, like the idea of vampires not being reflected in mirrors or their ability to infect humans by biting them.
The set-up of the story is also interesting, taking place 150 years after a vampire uprising in which the vampires conquered the Northern Hemisphere and the majority of humans fled to the South. All of the beauty and culture in the Northern lands was destroyed by the vampires, who have no interest or understanding of such things, and when Adele ends up in London we get a chilling description of the ruin this once-great city has become.
- The ramshackle airship descended, approaching the spires and domes and the horrid slate grey blocks of buildings. Adele saw dark mounds scattered on the avenues, streets and alleys. A closer examination revealed that the mounds were piles of dead bodies. The city’s wide circles and narrow courtyards were heaped with bones. The turgid river Thames was at low tide and, as the airship skimmed over it, Adele saw white femurs and rib cages protruding from the muck along the shoreline. Nealy all the glass windows in the city were smashed, except, amazingly, some of the stained glass of Westminsters. Green grass sprouted through the cobblestones while lush vines grew without restraint, hiding edifices and obscuring the statues of the formerly great humans. The airship glided over the collapsed roof of Parliament.
So The Greyfriar did show some promise and there were certainly elements of the story that I very much enjoyed but unfortunately the book never really develops beyond those glimmers of potential.
A large part of the problem was that most of the characters are disappointingly one-dimensional. I was particularity disappointed with the Greyfriar, who is the kind of character that I would normally love. He swoops in to defend the downtrodden and weak, cloaked in mystery by a mask that hides his real identity. But for some reason, although we get a glimpse into the heads of almost all the other characters, the Greyfriar’s thoughts remain closed to us until almost half-way through the book. And even then we don’t really get any insight into his thoughts and motivations which really stunted his development, as well as the development of his relationship with Adele. I was also disappointed with the fact the Greyfriar’s secret identity is revealed so early on in the story, both to the readers and to Adele. I think the story would have been much more exciting if the air of mystery surrounding the Greyfriar had been maintained.
I’m not going to go into too much depth about the other characters but they also remained unsatisfying flat, when they could have been so much more. Adele is the only one who had some real life to her.
I was also unimpressed by the writing and the use of phrases which are meant to be descriptive but don’t actually mean anything. For example, one character is describes as having 'bright eyes that showed he knew more than anyone around him,' which left me wondering how exactly his eyes accomplished this. Another character is said to be “making heroic small talk” after which I spent several minutes trying to figure out what 'heroic small talk’ might be, though I soon gave this up. But the fact that the writing distracted me enough from the story that I kept stopping to puzzle out what the authors were trying to say, was definitely problematic for me.
Despite my disappointment with The Greyfriar I still think that it's a book that might be enjoyed if you go into it without too many expectations. The story has its fun moments and the pace is lively enough to keep you reading. And while I don’t feel particularly driven to read the sequel I might pick it up out of curiosity, to see if the authors manage to bring out some of that potential that The Greyfriar hints at.