Here be Dragons

Synopsis:

1870 seemed to be the beginning of the end of the human race – vampires, half mythical creatures lurking in the shadows since time immemorial – finally came out of their graveyards and tombs. They decided to attack western civilizations in the northern zone, climatically the best suited for them, and by doing so to gain access to unlimited free food supplies. The civilized world of humans, totally unprepared for such an enemy, collapsed under the attack in a matter of five years. Human leaders fled south, creating new countries in Africa, South America and Asia while those of their former subjects who were left behind became blood slaves of the conquerors.

A century and a half later, the world remains divided between the vampire and human zones which might be called the North (vampires) and the South (people). Every side prepares to war as nobody is satisfied with their current status quo. Humans rely on the advance of their technology – steel, chemical weapons, quick-firing arms and airships- ignoring the spiritual field and religions of any denomination. Vampires rely on their superior senses and ruthlessness. It seems all sides are in for a surprise.

The Equatorian heiress to the throne, Princess Adele, with her younger brother, Simon, is on a state tour of the northern border free city-states (like Marseilles) when British vampire-in-chief Prince Cesare organizes a successful kidnapping action. The stranded princess meets a mysterious half-legendary (and obviously very lonely) freedom fighter, known as the Greyfriar, but even his amazing skills are not able to save her – she is taken to London and held as a hostage. This event, though, seals a treaty between the two human superpowers, Equatoria and America, and a plan to attack jointly the vampire empires in Europe. After all Princess Adele has recently got engaged to a powerful American senator Clark, a renowned vampire killer, to make such an attack not only possible but also successful. Now she is missing in action – will her fiance be able to save her from the clutches of one of the most cruel vampire warlords? Will this experience change Adele’s outlook on life? Are all vampires as bad as they seem to be?

Vampire lore:

The authors decided to present vampires in a different way for what I am truly grateful. Firstly vampires are born not made; they constitute simply a different species apart from the Homo Sapiens; they also age and some of them don’t age well. While vampires need humans to survive, humans would be better off without such deadly parasites.

Secondly vampires come with flaws – apart from the fact that not all of them are beautiful their sense of touch is very limited (so they don’t feel pain when injured, even very seriously, but they are also a tad clumsy) and their creativeness is pretty much non-existent. Most of them can’t read or write (well, what’s the point, after all, when you live over 800 years and have seen all these historical events?). High temperatures make them sluggish and drowsy – apparently they can’t survive in tropical climate for long. Vampires’ main defense mechanisms are their sight, smell and hearing, superior even to the senses of dogs and cats, their fastness and the fact that they can regenerate very quickly. They can also fly (or maybe rather float changing their density at will) and they speak their own language (but if they want to they can learn human languages as well.)

What I liked:

When I first heard and read about this book I immediately assumed it was intended to appeal to young adult female readers and, as such, ride the well-worn coattails of Twilight – a romantic trio etc etc. The word “steampunk” and some reviews, posted before the release, caught my attention, though. Well, it is an example that you really shouldn’t judge a book by the cover (and the cover of this book is quite nice btw).

The Griffith’s have created a very interesting world and their take on the vampires is unique. The book might be also perceived as a paranormal futuristic spin to the Cold War. The story line is fast-paced (but if you are a more demanding reader you should ignore the plausibility factor from time to time) and the characters – well-rounded. I also loved the mixture of different themes, scattered around the plot: I found some borrowings from “Romeo and Juliet”, “Zorro”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “V for Vendetta”, “The North and the South” – the list might be continued! I am also curious about the future clash of spirituality and technology in Equatoria – it really sounds good!

Last but not the least: both male and female main leads are very likeable. There is no romantic triangle in view (well done!). I found Princess Adele to be a compassionate, resourceful, and truly kick-ass heroine despite her high position. The Greyfriar turns out to be far more complex than an ordinary “Zorro-type” hero who saves damsels in distress (and I really can’t write anything more because it would be a huge spoiler).

What I didn’t like:

I must admit it – some of the scenes were a bit cheesy, kind of taken straight from a B class adventure movie (or a graphic novel). I also hope there will be more politics and less slaughter in the next parts– I do understand some fighting scenes are necessary in such a book but honestly, after a while you might feel a bit tired by the cadavers and the carnage. It is good when the characters can plan and think, not only wield a sabre.

The final verdict:
So far so good but let’s wait for other installments – it is supposed to be a trilogy, after all! Three stars and a half.

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