Here be Dragons

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Princess Adele struggles with a life of marriage and obligation as her Equatorian Empire and their American Republic allies stand on the brink of war against the vampire clans of the north. However, the alliance’s horrific strategy for total victory drives Adele to abandon her duty and embark on a desperate quest to keep her nation from staining its hands with genocide. Reunited with her great love, the mysterious adventurer known to the world as the Greyfriar, Adele is pursued by her own people as well as her vengeful almost-husband, senator Clark who wants to be emperor at all costs. With the human alliance in disarrray, Prince Cesare, lord of the British vampire clan, seizes the initiative and strikes at the very heart of Equatoria.

As Adele labors to bring order to her world, she learns more about the strange powers she exhibited in the north. Her teacher, Mamoru, leads a secret cabal of geomancers who believe Adele is the one who can touch the vast power of the Earth that surges through ley lines and wells up at the rifts where the lines meet. These energies are the key to defeating the enemy of mankind, and if Princess Adele could ever bring this power under her command, she could be death to vampires. But such a victory will also cost the life of Adele’s beloved Greyfriar.

The Rift Walker is the second book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternative history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, the Vampire Empire series brings epic politcal themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

What I liked:

Adele is getting more mature and she learns to make her own choices – always a good thing in any novel. Vampires change their tactics (ok, prince Cesare changes them to tell you the truth and he has some brilliant ideas despite being a monster so overall I warmed up to him despite his murder at the end) and make alliances previously unheard-of. Characters who were supposed to be white hats in the first part got gray hats or even black hats this time – I liked that very much, especially as it concerned some of court politicians. Good moves.

The world building was exquisite although this time we see more of Africa and less of Scotland or London. Still it was a nice trip, especially as it featured the Abu-Simbel temple of Ramsesses and Amun – I would love to visit that site myself. The steampunk factor was not as pronounced as in the first part but it was felt there nevertheless. Farenheit blades are great. ;D I would fancy one.

The plot was fast-paced with some really nice scenes (the meetings between Adele and senator Clark were actually my favourites), the narration smooth and interesting although not to the very end. Why not ? Read the next section to find out.

What I didn’t like:

The closer the plot drifted to those cheesy Zorro movies and indeed, pulp fiction, the less enjoyable it became to me. Rescuing Adele right from the altar at the last possible moment, right after vows? Oh dear, please, it was done to death; it’s enough to remind that fabulous scene from Shrek 01 where the Donkey flies through a big glass window (exactly like our Greyfriar) on a she-dragon (not exactly like Greyfriar who is a vampire and can fly on his own) and shouts: “I have a dragon and I won’t hesitate to use it!” As an ironic, tongue-in-cheek pastiche it worked perfectly well for me; as a serious, big, fat and romantic plot device – not at all. In fact, in my very humble opinion, it was an insult to Adele’s and Gareth’s intelligence and their ability of strategic planning – they could have orchestrated the whole kindnapping a lot better.

Unfortunately after that scene everything went pretty much downhill. Greyfriar proves time and again that the South is not for vampires and the second part of this book is not for more demanding audience. It is heartbreaking to write it but so I felt. Not even Flay who, next to Cesare, is indeed my favourite black character of this series (if you haven’t read the first part – she is a powerful vampiress in love with Gareth and also a woman spurned by him and believe me, she minds it a lot), could rescue it. Not really. I also hated the fact that Gareth was so weak while travelling in the South. I liked him better while in Scotland.

What I found downright funny (beware: spoilers and some nasty PG remarks ahead – highlight and read at your own risk!):

Ok, so we have this big, teary romance between the princess and her vampiric beloved. They missed each other terribly and they finally meet after a long time in extremely romantic circumstances – he saves her from being married to an American brute she doesn’t love, right? After that they run away together and spend a lot of time alone.Aaaaaaaaaaaaand…he kisses her. Only. Oh, wait, they also cuddle a bit on the same bed and yes, he treats her as his private emergency food storage so he drinks her blood. Still, nothing untoward passes between them because…well, the authors seem very inclined to tiptoeing around that issue as if it was one big hot piece of coal, to be treated with utmost care, preferably to be avoided completely. Honestly… I know it is an YA book but even in such novels these things are at least mentioned, if not vaguely described. At the very end Gareth is princess Adele’s official consort and still they only cuddle…and kiss…and cuddle some more… and drink deeply.
My conclusions? Gareth must be homosexual or a saint or he simply cannot perform. Maybe all these three are true who knowns…

Final verdict:

A good YA novel but also, in my opinion, one definitely worse than the first part which I truly enjoyed. I am still willing to read the third and the final one but I must admit I am a bit wary now. The Rift Walker fell a bit short of my expectations so I wonder what solutions the authors will chose to finish the series. Two and half stars.

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